There's an infographic making its way around the Internets right now. Called the "Anatomy of a Web Design Client" from Top Web Design Schools, it's pretty clear about the pain points designers run into with clients. (Click image for full-size)
But how can you avoid being that client? After all, you aren't a designer yourself, you just know what you want. Here's a few simple steps to do before you end up having a terrible web design experience and being *that* client.
Know What You Want To Do
The initial reaction to the question of web design is very similar to the initial reaction to art, "I know what I like."
Name three qualities about a web site you use often that you like. Color should not be among those three things. Saying you like the color of a website is exceedingly similar to saying you like a car for the color.
If you're reaching desperately for a vocabulary to describe the things you like, you probably need to start further back in the concept of websites than you may think. Yes, sure, you use them all the time, but if you don't know what you want yours to do, you might not be able to adequately describe what you like. Designfestival has a really simple description of what a webpage is. These words listed each describe a feature of the webpage.
Until you know what the purpose of your website actually is, you're going to have a hard time knowing what features to focus on. Most business websites feature:
Information about the company/store/products or services
E-commerce - links to purchase those products/services or to follow up for more information
Demonstrations of expertise - product demos, presentations, expert articles
Not every website needs to have all of these, but business websites without any of these, end up being confusing or unfocused.
In addition, it's smart to provide Sharing capabilities, so your customers can get the word out for you.
Navigation is the unsung hero of websites. Few people pay any mind to the navigation within a site, but if you've ever been caught in a website where you couldn't find what you wanted, or get back to where you started, you know how critical good navigation is.
Take a look at sites you use often, and sites you find aesthetically pleasing. Note down what you like about each site. Pay attention to the difference between good site structure and good content. Your designer can make the first shine, but the second bit is going to be up to you.
Know What You Definitely Do Not Want and Why
The other common phrase from *that* client is, "I don't know why, but it just doesn't work for me." There's pretty much no faster way to sour a client/designer relationship. It's absolutely critical that you know exactly why a thing does not work for you.
For instance, Web Pages That Suck coined a term - Mystery Meat Navigation. These are sites that are so clever and visual that you have no idea what anything does. There's not a pop-up or a roll-over hint, either. These sites have jettisoned utility for style (or sometimes, just plain delusion.) Visit the link to Mystery Meat navigation to understand the levels of frustration this can cause a new visitor - or a returning one. In fact, bookmark Web Pages That Suck and check out what they have to say about web design. You'll learn a lot, quickly and with a few laughs. They've been doing this since the days of Tripod and Angelfire, they've seen it all.
Once you know what you can't stand about other sites, give your designer a short list: No flashing, scrolling, spinning things, no background music, no automatically downloading *anything*, etc....
Be Realistic About Your Contributions
Nothing is eternal. Even your perfect nice new website will need to be refreshed once in a while. It might have a server issue or a feature may not work the way you want it to on an upgraded browser. There is nothing you can do to make a site with 100% uptime and no errors ever. Everything on the Internet is changing, all the time.
If you are truly put off by the idea of spending any time on the phone with your internet host, and can't figure out how to add a Facebook 'Like' button to a WordPress page (or are too stressed by the idea to try,) let your designer know upfront. They may know a website manager you can hire to check in periodically to update, upgrade and clean up the back end. This is exactly as important as having someone straighten your shelves and vacuum your store at the end of the night - you do that every day, to make sure the store looks clean and organized. You'll need to have someone do that for your site regularly, too. Your designer is not a website manager. Don't expect to be able to call them at 2AM with a panicked "The site crashed!" message. The moment you do, you've become *that* client.
Vague ideas and unreasonable requirements lead directly to you being *that* client. The more you know about what you do want, don't want and why, the more likely you'll get a website that suits you.
(Unsolicited plug for three designers I use: Bonnie Wasielweski, May Young and Lissa Patillo. If you're looking for stellar design work, check them out. Bonnie and Lissa also do implementation.)