FTFY: Washington House Salon Site

I’ve been a little lax on some of my ‘ongoing series’ that I intended to do. But I’m returning to FTFY Fridays with a different kind of ‘fixed that for you’ than what I’ll usually be doing. This FTFY was an actual job, but something unique about it puts it squarely in this category because it gives me a chance to talk about some important things that graphic designers need to remember when working on a job. First, let’s talk about the client: Washington House Salon.

photo credit: Elizabeth Renta

photo credit: Elizabeth Renta

Washington House Salon is premium boutique salon with a dedicated staff of lovely women that had had a tough go the last few months. The landlord of their old location had created a situation where they were being forced out and they were having to move. They were also desperate to update their website – not only to reflect the changing times, but also to help make everything feel fresh and new again in their new location.

Original Salon Site

Washington House Salon's Old Site

As you can see, the site is glaringly out of date. While the colours are workable, and the branding is decent, the site is muddy and cramped. It looks haphazard and poorly planned out, with lots of buttons and text, and very little appeal. This doesn’t reflect the elegant and uplifting atmosphere of the salon. This isn’t the version I was presented with either. The previous designer had lazily replaced the header image with giant text letting everyone know that they were moving locations.

New Salon Site


Clean, white, open with lots of fresh images. Copy has been cut down and streamlined. This site has lots of great little features like parallax scrolling images for a bit of ‘texture’, easy access to the online booking app, and better content organization that gives the salon the premium look it deserves.

What Happened

Cecile Washington

photo credit: Elizabeth Renta

I was approached by Cecile Washington, the owner, through a referral from a friend and colleague, Elizabeth. Cecile had a rough go with a previous designer (whom will remain unnamed and unlinked to) in an attempt to get her site updated. The designer hadn’t agreed with her requests for the new design, was hell bent on giving her a custom designed wordpress template, and after taking his $300 deposit, providing a few mockups that Cecile didn’t like, he disappeared with the money.

As a designer, I can understand wanting to get paid for work, whether the work gets used or not. I’ve done plenty of spec project work, and pitch work to know that it sucks to put hours into work that doesn’t pay off. As a contractor though, the rule is – I get paid if the client chooses not to use the work after the job is complete. If I decide to walk away from a job, I don’t take money for it. If it’s my decision to leave the project, I don’t feel it’s fair to take cash from the client for incomplete work. The whole point of a deposit is to secure the job – if you don’t complete the job, the deposit should be returned.

That pissed me off.

The second thing that irritated me about this was the example of the site that Cecile showed me she wanted. It wasn’t that she showed me a bad site, or that the example she showed me was some kind of insult to me as a designer. What irritated me was that she had shown this to the previous designer, and he had refused to make the site look like that. I’ve talked about this elsewhere: Boiled down, Designers provide a skill set to translate other people’s visions into visuals. That does mean there is going to be some kind of guidance when it comes to usability, taste and trends, and design rules. But a designer that tries to take control of another companies brand to express their own vision is not a good designer. It is a very rare case where a designer can step into a new job an revamp something related to a clients brand identity and know what’s best for that clients brand. Things like this are a team effort, and require the designer to work with the client, not against them.

The worst part about his refusal to do the site is that the example she showed both of us was a Squarespace site. For a simple business card site (mostly static content, business information and contact info), Squarespace is a perfect solution. There’s no bloat. There’s very little work on the client’s behalf to ensure the site stays updated and online as tech and code evolve. It’s also mostly drag and drop with easy editing features, which means for a small business owner with limited resources, they are able to make changes to their website on their own without breaking anything, or having to rely on an outside contractor to make those changes or fixes. Squarespace is such a perfect solution for small businesses that I’m now offering a package for Squarespace Setups where I will take care of all the initial content transfer and layout to get a client setup, offer guidance and support while they learn how to use the platform, and ensure that everything is set up and working correctly. What the previous designer was doing was essentially making a few hack customizations to pre-existing wordpress templates and calling it a custom wordpress site. Total hack.

I’m not sure why, but apparently this took almost three months for this designer just to provide a few unwelcome mockups before he abandoned the project. Had he just done what the client wanted, he could have finished the site in a matter of hours. After getting Cecile setup on Squarespace and getting her to connect her social media accounts, I turned her site over in about ten hours total working time over three/four days. It took a little longer finding some filler images – had we done the photography prior to the site design, I could have shaved off an hour or two.

The best part about this project is I got a chance to collab a bit with my favourite photographer, Elizabeth Renta. She went and shot the girls in their studio, shot the studio, and a bunch of other stuff and had these big bold images to me in less than a day. She just gets people, and brings out this incredible focus on who they are in a way that *looks* effortless. I know it isn’t, and she works really hard, but being as good as she is, she makes it look easy. And fun.

Washington House Salon

photo credit: Elizabeth Renta

The photography totally makes the site – the right photography can make or break a site – which is why Elizabeth and I are now adding a small business photography package to my offerings for small businesses.

Give me some feedback!