We've been doing it wrong since the beginning. And no, I'm not referring to life in general, though the argument could be made for that. I'm more referring to what we deliver to clients in the design phase, and what they end up getting in the prototyping / development / deliverable phases. Clients [typically] don't have the experience or requirement to know the difference between a static JPEG / PNG and what they use everyday on the web. So, it's no wonder that without proper heads up, clients often get confused and/or irritated when seeing the final product, or something close to that.
The biggest reason this exists is because, like any other job or service industry, things start out one way and once it reaches a certain level of momentum, that's the expected way to do things. Client service design shops have always delivered static comps, for both print and web. And of course, both print and web are very different media, so this should not have occurred, but up until semi-recently, the tools did not exist to allow us to do other wise. And, perhaps a larger reason, clients expected (and still do) these deliverables. In their minds, they are paying for our design expertise, and they might feel that having something tangible is really the only way to determine if the result they get is up to their expectations. Also, for a mid-level person, having something sharable, printable, sketchable, etc., might be the best/only way to get any kind of buy-in/approval from the higher ups.
Of course, just because something has been done a certain way for a long time in no way makes it the right way. But, unfortunately in our industry, unless you are closer to the bleeding edge (& can sell the client from the get go), this will continue to be the way things work.
The process was not the only issue either. The tools used in creating for the web, and the tools used to access the web, and the web itself are all partially to blame. For many years it was just easier to deliver a static comp and worry about the myriad browsers and their myriad myriad (not a typo) of rendering issues once we got design approval. Plus, hosting was more expensive, and deploying was more complicated; so we just said fuck it -- here's a JPEG of what it will look like. And this of course led to pixel-perfection expectation and nightmares for developers.
And by this, I mean that clients would see how everything was beautifully laid out in Photoshop 6, and how crisp Comic Sans looked, and how wonderful the text-shadows were, and how smooth the box-shadows were, and how the multiply filter later made the photos look #instagram before instagram, and how the giant background image smoothed out perfectly to the width of the PSD, and ... you get the point. The point was, and is, that with these tools (Photoshop, GIMP, etc.), it's very easy to make a slick, clean, crisp mockup; but when it translating this to the web is not so smooth. Nor is it always possible, nor is it always acceptable to not have this, at least in the clients mind.
This then of course leads to rounds of back and forth about why the client is seeing X, Y and Z in Internet Explorer 7 that looks literally nothing like the JPEG. The text is jagged and hard to read, there are no rounded corners, there is no text-shadow, the page takes too long to load, the background image just cuts off when their window is wider than 1200px, etc.
That's right -- it was all a big lie. The beautiful JPEG we spent so many hours perfecting the 13px gap between the navigation menu and the search bar was done to satisfy our needs to create something beautiful; not because it was best for the client / project. We knew that this would never be the same in the browser, yet we sold and designed and sold and designed like we could make it happen anyways. I'm not saying we should, or could, have even done anything differently, except for maybe clearly, harshly outlining browser & OS (operating system) limitations with our clients at the kick-off.
Why oh why are we not fighting tooth and nail to stop this? Sure it's hard and unpleasant to disrupt our clients expectations at the RFP stage, but we all need to be doing this. We need to present ourselves as what we are -- builders upon current technology, not magical pixel makers. There's only so much we can do based on the current state of the web, and starting out in something other than the web is continuing this lie, and cheating our clients to a certain degree.
Mused on June 12, 2013