There Are Questions Even a Grumpy Designer Can’t Answer


I am not an advice columnist. Nor am I a mediator, lawyer or even an IT specialist. Like many of you reading this, I’m a web designer.

In reality, this title only qualifies me to answer questions about web design. And even then, I may very well have to look up the answer.

But that doesn’t stop clients from asking me about all manner of subjects. The funny thing is that these questions often, in their own roundabout way, relate to their website. But they’re still outside of my particular wheelhouse.

I think it speaks to both the growing complexity of the web and how segmented the industry has become. And it also reflects the lack of resources website owners have when it comes to finding answers. Clients often don’t have anywhere else to turn, so they ask their web designer.

Here, then, are a few example subjects that have me wondering if I should head back to school.

Legal Pains

Putting a website out there for public consumption is no longer a carefree endeavor. These days, websites are subject to an increasing amount of legal scrutiny. And clients are rightfully concerned about how to stay in compliance – even as the rules continue to evolve.

I’ve received questions on a variety of legal matters, including:

  • Accessibility;
  • Copyright;
  • PCI Compliance;
  • Privacy Policies / Terms of Use;
  • User Data;

The problem is that, while these items are important considerations for any website, there’s only so much I can tell a client. The best any web designer can do is provide some general guidance and maybe an opinion. Going any further could lead to some sort of liability should something go wrong.

From there, I recommend they speak to a lawyer. As things get more complicated, it may make sense for web designers to find a legal expert they trust to refer clients to. That way, we’ll at least know they are in good hands.

A person writing.

Email and IT Nightmares

This grumpy designer has sounded off on email before. It’s a cruel sort of torture for everyone. But it’s especially bad for smaller clients who don’t have their own IT staff.

Between the folks trying to set up custom email accounts on their smartphone to wondering why form submissions don’t come through, this may be the subject I’m asked about most. After all of these years, I still dread it.

When it comes to account setup, I try to be helpful and at least point them in the right direction. Still, it can be difficult to help some of the more technically-challenged people. In addition, all of the different account types and devices available mean that there are a lot of variables at play.

The scourge of dealing with spam filters takes things to another stratosphere. When messages from forms or shopping carts don’t get delivered, it can take a lot of digging to find answers. The sad part is that, even after spending a good bit of time on an issue, I still don’t always have a good solution.

Then, there are also a myriad of general information technology questions. I’ve been asked about viruses, setting up a LAN, internet connectivity issues and just about anything else a small office might face.

Don’t get me wrong – I can certainly understand why a client may ask about these things. Web designers are technically-minded, and may be the best resource available in a given moment. Yet, it’s also far outside our area expertise.

Email in a web browser.

Scammers and the Unknown

Maybe I should add the titles of private investigator and consumer advocate to my wish list. Over the years, I’ve heard from numerous clients who were rightly suspicious over emails, snail mail or phone calls they’ve received.

A number of scams are easy to spot. The old domain registrar trick where a letter says you’re up for renewal at 5 times the price paid is common. And there are a number of ridiculous-sounding emails as well.

But where I get stumped is when I’m asked about the veracity of a third-party service. For example, a client recently asked me for an opinion on an email provider I’d never heard of. Their website looked legitimate enough, but I had no idea if the service itself was any good. And I really didn’t have time or motivation for a drawn-out Google search on their reputation.

In the end, it seems like the best move is to steer everyone towards common sense. And, when that’s not enough, encourage them to do a little research on their own.

Man looking at a computer screen.

You Can’t Know Everything

In some ways, it’s a bit flattering that a client might ask me about one of these subjects. That reflects a good relationship and a level of trust. It’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

But, for any web designer, there are limits as to what you can know and are qualified to answer. Without a law degree, we can’t provide specific legal advice. Without a background in IT, we can’t provide much support for a crashed file server. It’s like asking a plumber to fix your car.

Beyond that, it’s also important that we “stay in our lane”. As great as it is to help clients, you have to ask whether or not you really want the responsibility of dealing with these outside issues. Do you want to be the one they call every time their email account has a hiccup?

Web design is a challenging field in its own right. Things outside of our sweet spot are best left to the other professionals out there.

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