Have you ever gotten a client that doesn’t know what they want until they see a concept they don’t want? or a client who seems surprised by the direction the design is going? What if you could simplify your web design process down to one concept?

What if you poured all your energy into a web design process that produced one concept you could be confident your client would love?

I’ve been doing this 25+ years. Working with hundreds of clients over hundreds of projects has taught me just a few things. Ok well lots of things lol. Simplifying and smoothing out my web design process has been THE hardest piece to learn (and the most humbling).

If you take away anything from my mistakes, it’s this: Work collaboratively with your client to fail early. What does that have to do with a web design process that produces one concept? Pretty much everything.


Maybe this is familiar to you too… have a strategy consult… begin to formulate something in my head… jump into a homepage design and spend about 6 hours making it look something amazing… then do another homepage concept. So 2 days spent on the design of a single static page… sometimes creating a secondary page for each completely fleshed out design option. So.much.time.

Old Result: Clients were pleased… almost always… but because it was the first time they’d seen anything, they wanted to have a say. Who can blame them? They should have a say. They’d proceed to mix and match and change things around. In my mind though, I was already done. Tired of it. Ready to move on. I’d start implementing their changes to get this phase of the project off my plate. A client trying to fix something by giving you specific suggestions never works.

While I was creating beautiful websites, there was no back and forth strategic collaborating to push the design to a better solution. By presenting a pretty design first, my clients were focused only on aesthetics. After a particularly trying revision-heavy project, a light bulb went off.

I shifted how I felt about feedback. I no longer saw it as an irritant but a set of parameters that pushed me to find a better solution.

I realized that my clients know more about their businesses than I do. I know more about design than they do. I decided to pursue the intersection between those two things.

I changed things up to involve my client much earlier in the web design process.


I still have the strategy call and formulate concepts in my head (even though I try not to). But before jumping into the design concept, I’ve added some steps that have simplified my web design process. It has freed me up to focus all my creative energy on the right design.

You’d think that adding steps would make more work for me, but I was able to reduce my time spent on the design phase of the process in half. I also have almost completely eliminated revision cycles to the final design I present.

1. Intake Form – First (before the strategy call), my clients fill out an intake form, intentionally designed to ask questions that will give me insight into the structure and styling of their future site. Questions such as:

  • What are their business goals?
  • What steps would they like their customers to take?
  • What online businesses inspire you?
  • Why are you in business? What passion drives your business? What is your mission?

2. Research – I’ve expanded my research step to include my client. Through collaborative, visual research, we add relevant inspiration to our existing ideas. It helps us both understand how the world will interpret what we are about to create. It’s a way to make sure I’m on the same page as my client and a way for my client to be sure the words they use = the perception they intend.

3. Structure – Prior to seeing any kind of design, I provide my clients with a homepage wireframe and we review it together. Wireframes are fast to build. They aren’t fancy. At this point, clients can move things around without being distracted by design details. As a designer, you can suggest how much copy would be ideal and what kind of photography you’d like to see. Explore new ideas, rule out the wrong ones (#failearly).

4. Styling – Once we’ve nailed down a structure together, I move on to styling. Styling is NOT the concept. Style tiles are a rapid iteration of ideas, with their sole purpose being to eliminate the wrong design direction (#failearly) and establish the right direction, aka the starting point for the design concept.

5. Homepage – By the time I reach the homepage concept stage, I’ve established a structure and created a starting point for design direction. This allows me to invest my creative energy into one design concept.

New Result: Clients aren’t surprised by the direction of the homepage concept.

Because they’ve collaborated with me from the beginning of the web design process, the homepage becomes simply the result of our work together.

There’s no second guessing. No surprises. No changes in direction. Clients are invested in the outcome because they’ve been included in the web design process. From this point, I typically have zero to one round of minor revisions before moving on to the next phase of the project.

Does your web design process often go off track? Tag me in the Drama-Free Design Collective and let’s talk about this. I’m happy to answer any questions you have!

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.