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Web Designer's Most Important Skill? The Ability to Listen, Says Grad

Most young creatives are eager to put their personal stamp on their work. And that’s not a bad thing, says Randy Underwood, a User Experience/User Interface Designer for BB&T, as well as his own design company.

Where designers (and other creatives) can go wrong is when they only see their own visions and neglect to really listen to the needs of their clients, he says.

"The market is full of designers that just want to flex their creativity – they really don’t have the client’s goals in mind,” says Randy, a longtime graphic designer. “It’s strange that designers will get a lot of business from other designers’ failures.”

Randy should know; he’s been a self-employed graphic designer since 1999. A few years ago, he decided to go back to school to update his skills in web design. He graduated from Full Sail’s Web Design & Development bachelor of science degree program in 2012. Now, in addition to graphics, Randy designs websites – focusing on both the look (user interface or UI) and feel (user experience or UX).

When it comes to website design, it’s more important than ever to understand exactly what your client needs, says Randy. To get an in-depth understanding of what his clients like and need, coffee shop meetings don’t cut it, says Randy. Instead, he has developed a lengthy questionnaire for clients to fill out to describe what they like and don't like about their site, what sites they admire, how they prefer customers contact them, and what their main goals are for the site.

“You can get a long way by asking the right questions,” says Randy.

Randy recently traveled to Largo, Florida for a project for BB&T. His project was to revamp an online system that allows management companies and HOAs to pay and process all their fees.

“What I was able to do was sit down with the folks who are going to use the system. I wanted to see where they stopped, where they stumbled, and where it tripped them up,” says Randy. As a result, Randy says, he will be able to put tools where they can find them and arrange the system in a more logical order.

“I’m making their system fit their lifestyle where they work,” says Randy.

Randy points out that listening to your clients doesn’t mean that you have to throw every idea they have into a website. Being a good designer means steering your clients toward good design, he says. Ultimately, however, the design has to be customized for the client.

“I don’t want the site to reflect me. I want the site to reflect my client,” says Randy. “In the end, it’s the client’s website. You want them to tell someone else, ‘This does what I wanted it to do.’”

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