Defining and Pitching your Process at DrupalCon SF 2010


This is a loose transcript of a talk given by Jon Clark of the Aten Design Group at DrupalCon 2010 San Francisco.

Process is a natural part of our work on the web. A pro-client process is a powerfully persuasive tool to pitch your process.

Aten Design Group has an iterative, client-focused process.

  • Discovery: we get to know the client, their goals for the website, their users, and their content. The content is what we used to create the deliverables in the discovery phase: the sitemap and wireframe.
  • Design: We address the look and feel, creating comps for the pages that we've identified on the wireframes. We do this in an iterative cycle, similar to the way we generated the sitemap.
  • Implementation: Build out the site skeleton using the sitemap in Drupal; start prototyping in Drupal; use core themes (Garland) to develop simple versions of the high-risk functionality in each project. Then, we apply the design as a theme to the prototype.

Once we are done with implementation, we are done with the prototype.

How did we develop this process?

We developed this process over 10 years of doing business. Over the last four, we've been focusing the process mainly on Drupal.

To develop your own process:

  • First, you should identify the areas in which you work
  • Next, put the steps of your process into order.
  • Then ask yourself, is this really the way we work?

The biggest change from the early descriptions to the way things really work out is in the order of the steps, so make sure that you describe these things very effectively. For example, Discovery starts with the first basic questions about the project, but can extend through the end of the project, even up to the final deliverables.

Don't forget work after launch, and how you will describe that in your process. Are you interested in maintenance agreements, for example?

Simplify your process

How will you be able to communicate this most effectively in proposals? Your process should inform your client and your contract, so that you can get things done and be protected in the way things are developed and deployed.

Can you get your process out in a sentence? How about a short conversation? What about a long presentation in front of a client? Your process should be succinct so that it can adapt to all these mediums of communication.

While complex diagrams may be impressive, they don't tell the story of how it is to work with you. Try to simplify things.

A well designed process should clearly describe the way you work and clearly show value you offer to your client.

Target the work you want to do

Use a process that hits on the most valuable points of your expertise. We work with clients who are concerned about their brand on the web and the experiences their users can go through. We crafted our process to match these needs; your process should match your client's needs, and not the lowest common denominator of your projects.

A good example in our case is prototyping early in projects. Before worked with Drupal, prototyping early was almost impossible. We struggled with the fact that we had to do so much development work, and we had to wait a long time before we could even show the client. Drupal allows us to get in there and get feedback from the client sooner, and that's very valuable as a company concerned with how the design works with development.

Focus on what's best for your client

Refine your process so that you can deliver more and more value for your client. Don't just think of ways to make things simpler for you (or your client,) but try to improve the value of what you're delivering.

We present a single comp to the client. If they're not prepared for that, it can seem like a huge loss of freedom. We have to work with them to explain why we have designed our process that way. You have to do the work early and reinforce often.

Find the rough spots

Identify where clients were frustrated or your team was frustrated. Could they have been avoided if you changed your process? If your process is bad for you, it's impossible for it to be good for your client. I encourage you to pursue good relationships with clients, and accept projects that will be good fits for you, whatever that looks like.

A bad project is more than a bad experience; it can have an effect on the rest of your work. Bad fits aren't just a pain in the project itself, but it's difficult to do work for your other clients. Be as selective as you can.

Be bold!

Make changes to your process early and often. Our projects can go from 6 to 9 months, and that's a long time to stay with a single process. See what other firms in the industry are doing, and change your process to incorporate their best practices.

Convert actual value to perceived value

Communicating your process to your clients helps increase your value offer. Even talking about things you don't do can have value. Communicating your process is your first chance to set expectations for the client. It sets the foundation for a successful project.

Wireframes take some expectation-setting. At the end of our thorough discovery process, we get to wireframes at about the same time that clients expect to see a full design, and it can be difficult to keep clients engaged. We want to set the expectation that wireframes may be boring, but they are very important. This can keep people engaged at this specific step.

Understanding the way you work distinguishes your proposal in the mind of the potential client.

When you have a process that you know is effective, you can set your company apart just by communicating it. Combine this with an on-target proposal and work experience from other clients, and you have a very compelling offer for your potential client.

Thanks to Jon for the great talk, which gathered a lot of questions. Readers can get more information about Jon's company at

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