I am the first to admit that when I’m building a website for someone, the last thing I do is work out the design. Which is strange, because I usually consider myself to be pretty evenly balanced, left-brain, right-brain.
But when you’re building something for someone, the functionality; what they want to happen, that’s resolved. “We want a website for Portland runners to join up and follow scheduled programs, for training for the Portland Marathon.” Ok, done, with a facebook integration, some database tables, some forms. But “we want it prettier than a 1992 website” — now you’re talking subjective judgements. And who’s going to say whether my idea of “prettier” is what you have in mind? Everything from the color scheme to the shapes of the icons is dangerously subjective.
You can put twenty hours into a project, adding gradients, icons, a color scheme, some ajaxy effects to load a user’s information into a little window. And then the client sees it and is going to say one of three things; “Hey, that’s great” or “Hey, not what I had in mind, but let’s change to a black and tan layout” or “It’s obvious that you’re not a designer” (that last one actually happened to me). And then what do you do with those hours I put into the project to “make it pretty” ?
However, if you do no design stuff and leave it completely rudimentary, the situation is like a builder who puts up studs and drywall but doesn’t bother painting. Who’s going to call that job complete? Not me. I’d be rather angry at a contractor who did that.
I think the solution might be one of two things. First, do the design part first- this helps the client see “a finished site” and maybe they’ll stop asking when it’ll be done. Secondly, work with a designer friend who is willing to help you out (for a fee). You can either subcontract the work to them (which I do not prefer) or you can connect the client to the designer directly which will get you out of that discussion.
However, I think you should always do some design work on a site, and you should make sure to build it into your invoice for the client, unless your designer friend provides you with all the things you need.