Humanized web development

Chris Esh


Many of my clients and collaborators come to me fleeing negative experiences with web developers.

What should be the rare exception in the industry appears to be far too common: developers overcharge, under-deliver, miss deadlines, and never communicate along the way. Or in many cases, a developer simply disappears without giving their client a reason.

After leaving the nonprofit industry to start my business, I was amazed at how often clients expressed appreciation for the simplest actions, such as responding to an email within a day or meeting previously set deadlines.

Apparently, these aren’t a given.

I’ve been a client too

A couple years ago, before becoming a web developer, I was on the other side. I was an employee at a nonprofit, and we wanted to make some small tweaks to our website. Over the course of about 5 months, I emailed the agency who built our site. Most of the time I got no response at all, with an occasional promise (“We’ll get this done next week.”) that never panned out.

Shortly after, I decided to learn web development, largely driven by the belief that getting a website built or fixed shouldn’t be a painful process.

As it turns out, it can actually be quite fun.

In my mind, here are the keys to a productive client/developer relationship.

Talk about the technology as little as possible

Unless you have a tech background or express curiosity, you most likely don’t want to know much about the technology beyond the bare essentials.

Instead you should focus on your vision and goals for the site. A good developer is one who can hear a client’s non-technical vision for their project and then translate it into a well-functioning site or application.

Maintain frequent communication

You should never be left in the dark. Even if there is no direct need for an email or a phone call, most clients appreciate a periodic status update to confirm that everything is moving along on schedule.

Set clear milestones

Every site I build includes at least four defined milestones for my client to review and sign off on. We design the structure before building anything, and we finalize the user experience before starting design. Each builds off the last so that as the site takes form, there are no surprises on either side.


Use plain English

There is no benefit to speaking to somebody in a language they don’t understand. Developers need to be able to translate tech-speak into regular English so that you can make informed decisions about the success of your project. Leaving the client feeling confused is damaging even if the topic at hand is non-essential.

It’s not just about making clients happier—this type of development process creates a better end-product.

You know your organization better than anybody. Your clarity of goals and expertise regarding your audience, sector, and competitors is what will make your website succeed. I need you to feel comfortable offering feedback and making changes throughout the process, so we can stay on the same page and create a stellar project.

Building a website for your organization should be fun, focused and inspiring. Don’t settle for less.


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