as a creative technologist

Disclaimer: a new mindset

the transition from net artist to web designer/developer

as net artists we’re concerned w/the cultural, political && aesthetic possibilities of the Internet + related technologies (namely the wwweb). we approach the technology critically + playfully, we prioritize experimentation && our work raises questions more than it cares to answer them. for wwwweb designers, developers and other creative technologists it's a bit different. a creative technologist’s job is in fact to answer questions + to solve problems. it’s about lending ur skillz + perspective towards helping realize someone else's vision (or a collective vision). it can be a humbling transition for a solo-artist coming from a fine art practice.

working with+for a client can be frustrating && it’s easy to think that they “don't’ get it”. keep in mind that their area of expertise is likely something other than the Interent/Web or creative technology (otherwise they wouldn’t be talking to u). when u’re forced to give up some creative agency + work on things u wouldn’t normally work on + in ways u wouldn’t normally work + for an audience u normally don’t think about + in a context u’ve never considered… lots can happen. these inter-disciplinary collaborations can be extreamly rewarding. u end up collaborating w/folx from worlds u would never have imagined working w/before. even the most frustrating client experiences can end up informing ur studio practice in important ways in the long run. it’s important to approach each client project w/an open mind + a humble attitude.

the Process

these days u can do almost anything on the wwweb && as a freelance creative technologist u might be asked to make all kinds of stuff from simple portfolio pages to complicated web apps and interactive installations. different sorts of projects might require different sorts of considerations, while the process2 i'm articulating below applies to almost any freelance/commercial creative technology project, i'm using the example of a "portfolio site" (custom website for a client/brand) as well as a general checklist of things most projects like this should consider. the process can be broken up into the following four stages:

  1. Proposal
  2. Planning
  3. Design
  4. Development

Stage 1: Proposal

making sure everyone can work together

first things first, u gotta meet w/the client, make sure they’re someone u can see urself working w/ + make sure u’ve got the skillz to do what it is they want. we’ll assume that they’re looking for a website for their “brand” (maybe they’re a fine art photographer looking for something more than a squarespace, or maybe they’re an indie-music label, or a local startup, etc.). we’ll also assume they’ve already got some kind of identity.3 that said, there’s a few things u’ll need to know about them before u can give them a quote+contract: get a clear idea of the scope of the project, besides a splash page4 what else do they want on their site? how many pages is it going to be in total? what’s going to be on those pages? get a sense of their audience, who’s going to be visiting the site? what will they be looking for? get a sense of their timeline, do they have a deadline in mind? && most important, be clear about exactly what it is u plan on giving them (ur deliverables). someone unfamiliar w/creative technology might think u’re also a copywriter5 or a photographer or hosting provider (more on this in a bit). Once u know everything u need to know say, “it was great meeting w/u, i’ll send u a quote w/in a week”.

the quote && the contract

the quote is an outline of what it is u plan to do for them, how much each of it costs && what the grand total is going to be. this is often also accompanied w/some kind of contract. the contract is less about lawyers +lawsuits6 && mostly for managing expectations. there are lots of sample web design +/or web development contracts online u can use. below i’ve listed out a few things u should make sure to include:

project overview

project outline
  • the stages ......... hrs x rate
  • of the project
    • as an ........ hrs x rate
    • outline ...... hrs x rate
    ........................ $total
what is not included
timing estimate
payment schedule
terms && conditions

signature && date
project overview: a simple paragraph that articulates what it is ur going to be developing for them

project outline: the various stages && sub-stages of the process. this should list in order everything u are going to do (timeline, wireframe, design, etc.) && what they are expected to do (questionnaire, approval, revisions, etc.). this can include an itemized quote (w/ hrs && rate per item) or simply the total hrs && cost at the end.

maintenance: urself && ur client will always notice tiny issues after the project already launches, for a simple portfolio site i'd recommend to include at least 6hr of “maintenance” for this but this will vary depending on the type of project (more on this later)

what is not included: hosting! SEO! copywriting? photography? social media? maybe even design?

timing estimate: general estimate of overall time

payment schedule: there’s a few ways u could break this down: 50% upfront 50% before launch, or in 3 stages (33% ea. stage) or in quarters (25% ea.) i've also worked w/creative technologists that charge by the hour && invoice on a weekly basis (but this is far less common on freelance projs)

signature && date: both u && them

as for the terms && conditions, for many this is the wordiest part of the contract && is usually a load of legalease they copy+pasted from an online template (there’s nothing wrong w/that, everyone does it). but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. u might want to find some language online regarding intellectual property7 && liability8 but u could write the rest in layman's terms (folx appreciate that), the contract killer is a nice example of that. a few things u should likely include in ur terms && conditions include:

cancellation: what happens if they cancel halfway? u should probably send ‘em a prorated invoice (&& explain it'll include any unpaid expenses incurred, like maybe u had agreed to pre-purchase 3yrs of hosting for 'em)

revisions: even though u’ll have this detailed in the project outline it’s wise to stress this point, specify what the max amount of revisions per step are && how much time they have to get back to u w/their feedback or approval (u can of course do more, but should explain this will come w/an additional cost)

maintenance: like i said up top, it’s very likely that someone notices something wrong after everything is done && paid for, u’ll get an email w/the subject line “small edit to the site”... sometimes it wont’ be small && sometimes it won’t be the only email w/that subject line. b/c this is so common it’s a good idea to include a few hrs for maintenance in the quote (this also helps address the fact that hrs worked after launch aren’t free), some clients might want to sign a “retainer” w/u (which is a year or so contract where u agree to give them a certain amount of maintenance hrs a month && they agree to pay every month… but proceed w/caution. here again setting expectations is key)

browser/device support: it’s a good idea to detail specifically which browser versions u’re going to support (do a caniuse search for something like border radius, that’ll give u a good idea for what’s reasonable).

assuming u’ll be delivering more than one quote/contract to a client in ur lifetime, it’s worth making this a template in ur document maker of choice. make sure to add header +/or footer to that template w/ur name && contact info (&& make that template stylish, we’re artists after all)

first Invoice (the deposit)

if the contract looks good && everyone signs it, next thing u want to do is send the first invoice. don’t start working until u get that deposit. depending on the payment schedule u chose this can be anywhere from 25% to 50% of the total quote. this doesn’t need to be complicated, a single page including ur name && contact info: email, phone number, address (if they're not mailing u a check, include how they should pay u). include who u’re billing to (ask them, “who should i bill this to?”), maybe that outline again so they don’t forget what they’re paying for && of course the total amount for this invoice. if u prefer, accounting tools like Quickbooks can also be used to generate + email invoices for u.

ur name invoice#  

bill to: client info

  • item ............. hrs x rate
  • item ............. hrs x rate
  • item ............. hrs x rate

  • ...................... $total

Stage 2: Planning

making sure everyone's on the same page

before u start designing anything there’s a list of things u should do, this might seem excessive but i promise it’ll save u lots of time in the long run. the first thing u want to do is have ur client fill out a questionnaire so u can better understand their goals && audience. then it’s ur turn to do some research, using their responses to the questionnaire as a guide. then u’ll put together three more documents: a creative brief, a site map && a timeline. u’ll set up another meeting w/ur client to look it all over. if they approve then (&& only then) u start the design process.

the Questionnaire

Project Questionnaire (date)  
client: name
project: name


target audience

project details

organization team

informatioin architecture


hosting info
objectives: What is the overall purpose and vision for this project? As an organization, when this site is completed what are you hoping it accomplishes? What are your expectations for the end product that you receive? To be effective our web site must be… (fill in the blank)

target audience: Who is your primary target audience? Who is your secondary target audience? (more info on audience Q's below)

project details: What is the desired launch date for this project? Does this project include multiple phases? && other misc. questions

organization team: Who are the stakeholders in this project? Who will be the final decision maker for the design, structure and functionality on the site?

information architecture: (if u're remaking a site that already exists) Which current pages are you going to continue to need with the new site? What content pages would you like to have on the new site that you currently do not have? What are the current problems or points of confusion with your current site? What are the additional functions that you hope to add to this site? What are the key paths/actions the users will be taking?

design: Please provide 3-5 websites that you find inspiring or visually appealing. Please be specific (for example: functionality, menu design, images etc.) What characteristics would you say resonate with your organization's brand? a bit more on this below

hosting info: dont' assume u'll be handling hosting, ask them if they already have hosting, if so ask for their info in this section, if not ask who will be handling the purchasing of domain names && hosting (u could handle that for them, but don't forget to bill it)

in my opinion the questions re:the target audience are among the most important in this questionnaire. there are some clients who may think their site is for “everyone”, but that’s very unlikely to be true. if this is the case, help them narrow down who that target audience is: ask them what their age ranges might be? how do they identify (gender identity, racial identity, etc)? What country? city? neighborhoods? income level? education level? marital/family status? occupations? how often do they use the web? what devices to they access it on? ...not all these questions might end up being useful, but it’ll help narrow the answer down a bit from “everyone.” 9 once u have a solid idea of who the target audience is, it’s also important to know/ask why folx visit this site && what they’re trying to achieve. what are they key motivations for coming here? what are their goals? it’s important to get this all down in writing in ur questionnaire && have both u && ur client sign off on it (no room for ambiguity w/this section)

in addition to asking them to list out websites they find inspiring, it can also be helpful to ask them to make a mood board, which is a collection/collage of media (usually images) that collectively represent a particular style. this is a technique designers often use to get a feel for the style their client’s want.

the creative brief

so u’ve given ur client ur custom questionnaire, they took a week or so to fill it out && sent it back to u. if any of the answers seem incomplete or confusing make sure to follow up w/them to clarify. after that it’s time to spend some time doing ur own research into ur client’s field (check out those websites they’re into) && their audience. the creative brief is a combination of that questionnaire && ur own research/perspective. if u’re just handling the development of the site && u’re paying ur talented graphic designer friend to do the actual design (more on that later) than the creative brief is what u hand over to them (after the client approves it), accompanied w/any mood boards u or ur client put together. larger projects (produced in larger teams) can have a few different “briefs” && their importance increases exponentially w/the size of the team working on it… if the team is just u, it isn’t always necessary (but i’d argue it’s good practice && can only help). it should include the following:

Creative Strategy (date)  
client: name
project: name


target audience

primary message

tone && execution


client signature && date
objectives: What we want to happen. This is what we want the creative to accomplish. It’s a specific communications objective, not a marketing/sales objective.

target audience: This is a profile of the audience we are trying to reach. It’s a demographic and/or psychographic portrait of the customer.

primary message: This is the main benefit (not a feature) that the customer (not ur client, but theirs) receives from the product or service. It’s the unique selling point.

tone && execution: What’s our approach? This dictates characteristics that should be reflected in the copy and design. It’s the overall style.

mandatories: What must be included? These are specific copy points or design elements that must be included in the creative.

the site map

the site map is a diagram of all the pages that will included in the final site that also shows how those pages are grouped (hierarchically). it’s important to keep the target audiences in mind. what are their goals? does the site map structure properly prioritize those? this may present a different site map to the one u or ur client might instinctively draft up. the site map also serves as a checklist, an understanding between u && ur client re:what u’re going to deliver them (no more, no less)


| ----------------------------- | | | menu about us jobs | | | breakfast find us apply | lunch | dinner

accompanying ur site map it might help to have some kind of content plan, where u list each of the pages in ur site map && detail the copy (text) && media (images,video,audio) u’ll need from the client in order to put that page together. when they approve the site map they can take the content doc w/them && return it to u w/the necessary copy && media attached. if not now, u’ll need to get this info later.

the Timeline

lastly, put together a timeline. this should include dates for each remaining step of the process (the more detail the better). this should include both ur deadlines for each step as well as theirs. ex: it’ll include the date for when u’ll be sending them the first wireframe (if u’ll be meeting in person to review the wireframe or not), when they need to send u back their revisions, when u’ll have the second draft ready for them && by when they need to approve that second draft. it should include when u’ll submit ur first design draft, then by when they need to send back revisions, followed by when u’ll send them the second design draft, etc.

once u have the creative brief, site map (w/content plan) && timeline ready, u’ll meet w/ur client to get their final approval && signatures on all this && then (&& only then) u start designing.

Stage 3: Design

wireframes && mockups

a wireframe is a kind of blueprint for the entire website. it’s a sketch of all the key information that needs to be included in each page, it also shows the general hierarchy of each bit of information, which isn’t necessarily where everything needs to go in the final design (though it is often used that way) but more about how prominent each piece of information needs to be. wireframes shouldn’t contain any style (no actual images, no colors, no typefaces), the point is to make sure all the information necessary is present && properly prioritized. when u skip out on making wireframes it can be easy not to notice missing information when reviewing a design w/ a client (u tend to focus on how the site looks && overlook missing info) && b/c it takes longer to produce a design than it does to produce a wireframe u can end up wasting a lot of time on those first few revisions unnecessarily. 10

web Design

once the wireframes have been approved (likely after a couple rounds of revisions) u can open up photoshop11 && start designing. web design && web development are two separate disciplines, these roles are often filled by two different individuals (or groups of folx) in any given web project. that said, for freelance web folx it’s not uncommon to tackle both. there do exist creative technologists who are trained+talented in both graphic design && development/coding (but these are rare, in the industry they’re referred to as unicorns). seeing as how we’re fine-artists-in-training w/in a new-media department, mayhaps we’ve got some unicorn blood in us.

Stage 4: Development

the HTML, CSS && JavaScript part!!!

once the client has signed off on the final designs u can start to code (it can be tempting, but avoid writing any code until the final designs are approved, it’ll save u time && heartbreak). one thing to keep in mind while u’re developing is don’t show the client half-finished work, they’ll get stuck on something that doesn’t work right && u’ll get tangled up in explaining what is/isn’t finished yet && it’ll be a waste of everyone’s time. ur timeline should detail when the first revision is to take place, that’s when u show them the first completed version (of the entire site or maybe a particular page or set of pages) && ask for feedback.


hosting isn’t ur job. it’s tempting to think “i can host their site on my server && charge a little extra”, but after a few clients u’ll find urself stuck w/doing all kinds of tech support stuff that well exceed what u ended up charging them for hosting. hosting is another business all together, it’s best to leave that to them. if they already have hosting ask them for their FTP info (credentials for accessing their server) && set up a "dev" directory/folder for urself to work in before the site goes live12 (never develop on the root directory, nothing should go "live" until launch time). if this is their first site u can offer to help them get set up w/hosting (ie. guide them through the process of setting up an account on namecheap or somewhere else) but make sure they understand that has more to do w/them than it does w/u.

TETO (test early, test often)

testing13 doesn’t mean that u made sure it worx, the creative technologist is the worst person to “test” a site, b/c u know exactly how it works, u know where all the buttons are, u never have to think about any of it (the client also isn’t the best tester, for similar reasons). testing means u ask folx (ideally the target audience) to interact w/ur site, u stay quiet, sit back && take notes. it’s too easy to get caught up debating w/a client about where a button should go, in the end the best thing to do is test it. this can be a humbling process, something u thought was obvious can be missed by everyone who tests ur page. as they say "test early" (one tester early on can be as valuable as a dozen testers later on) && "test often" (testing isn’t something u do once, it should be an iterative process built into ur timeline).

testing can be as simple as asking a few folx (again, target audience) to let u watch them interact w/ur page for a few minutes, but there are also lots of tools/techniques specifically developed to optimize the testing process. a tool we like to use is, where u can pay a group of users (from ur target demographic) to use ur site, while they screen record their interactions && speak aloud what their thinking. another technique is spit testing (or a/b testing), usually deployed once a site is live, what u do is show half ur users one version of the site && the other half a different version of ur site && compare the results to see which version performed better.