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Imagine that there is a project to be completed. This project involves three parties: client, a development organisation (a one that you work for), and a design agency. The design agency is a subcontractor of the client. The role of the design agency are largely responsible for doing styling; however in the past these designers have produced substandard work such as extensive use of id targetting in css instead of class targetting, etc.

At what point should developers become involved in a triangular relationship among client, design agency, and themselves? What meetings or communication would you expect to take place at this point?

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You should be involved from the very beginning. Design agencies can produce excellent graphical comps for use on a Web site, but they often produce way substandard markup, scripting, and CSS. Frequently they will just mock something up in Dreamweaver and deliver that as the "front end". Dreamweaver provides a very leaky abstraction of all front-end coding. And their hand-coding is often even worse. Frequently they'll just job it out to another subcontractor you may not even see or be able to interact with.

Also, static comps have other drawbacks. All text strings are carefully trimmed to fit in the space provided. For example, they'll show you a nice narrow column full of names: Fred Sparks, Jane Adams, Bob Blume, etc. And each line fits nicely on its own line. They won't have thought through what happens when a name like Mokomowatowa Damamgassitavoski, which will distort the column dimensions or have to be truncated, etc.

Furthermore, design agencies often specify a bunch of effects that may or may not be easy to do. Their solution? Just throw another framework at it. I actually heard a design agency say that in a meeting: "Well, X framework has that effect, so why not just add that framework?" And we were already using two other frameworks. (Full disclosure: I'm one of those people who believes in the one-framework rule. If you can't do it using jQuery w/ plugins plus vanilla Javascript — well, it's probably not worth doing.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against good graphical design. I practice it myself. But you have to be engaged with the agency from the beginning, and be able to interact with them freely, in order to get the best work done and not to have your project turn into a living nightmare.

And, yes, don't be afraid to point out to everyone within earshot that there are coding practices that should be followed. For example, element IDs are not meant to be used like class selectors. Be patient, but explain in very simple terms that having duplicate IDs on a page breaks Javascript code trying to address those elements.

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If I understand you correctly, the design agency is a subcontractor of your development shop. So you can set appropriate demands and acceptance criteria for their work (and in a sensible shop, it is needless to say that developers should have a say in that).

I guess you could arrange a meeting with the designer(s) in conjunction with, or right after, the first requirements discussions, politely explaining them why their previous work was substandard, and how to do it better. Depending on the client, it may not need to be a three-side discussion though, as clients aren't necessarily interested in the technical side of things.

Then of course you must continuously review the deliverables to ensure that the designers understood and are following the guidelines.

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The design agency is a subcontractor of the client - I'll edit –  Carnotaurus Apr 29 '11 at 11:02
    
Your answer is worth an upvote nonetheless –  Carnotaurus Apr 29 '11 at 11:05
    
@Carnotaurus, I see. Then you should approach the client first, explaining them the problems with the designers' previous work (in layman's terms, putting emphasis on what it costs them in hard cash / what future business opportunities it prevents etc.), and if the client agree, arrange that meeting with the designers. –  Péter Török Apr 29 '11 at 11:05

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