Help us, help you
As clients, you play an integral role in the design process. Without your input and intimate knowledge of your business, the process of designing a website would be tough to accomplish. Good design comes from partnerships between designers and clients when all team members are in sync with each other.
While there is no single design process that works for every project, the overall approach is usually similar. And as with most humans, designers are creatures of habit. We like to stay as close to our process as we can.
In order to help us do that (so we can produce the best possible results for you), there are are several ways that you as a client can make the process as successful as possible.
Don’t play “follow the leader”
Many kickoff meetings involve discussions relating to the websites of our client’s competitors. It helps give everyone an idea of level of quality and strategy that exists in your market space. Sometimes, these websites can be a good source for inspiration for your own website.
However, blindly following what others have done is often a major mistake. What works for a competitor’s site, might not necessarily work for yours. Without any data to back up our assumptions, you won’t know for sure if the site is even truly effective for your competitor.
Besides, you don’t want to been seen as a follower in your industry – you want your website to make your company stand out as the leader.
Bring all decisions back to business objectives
We encourage our clients to not get bogged down in the details of the design. It’s the designer’s job to worry about the details – that’s why your hired them. Through our years of experience, designers know what works well and what isn’t appropriate.
Just as you wouldn’t tell your accountant how to do your tax calculations, commenting on margins, font-size, and whitespace is not your job. Instead, when there is an element of the design that comes under scrutiny, ask yourself these two questions: 1) How will users respond to this design? and 2) Will it meet my business objectives?
Focus on problems, not solutions
To make the most of your designer’s skills you need to focus on discussing problems rather than suggesting solutions. For example, if you are concerned that some of the colour selections that have been made by your designer are not correct, please don’t just suggest alternate colours.
The reason we don’t recommend you shouting out solutions is because design is a very subjective topic. We all have our personal opinion and what you (or your boss) may like, may not be the answer to what your website’s users will prefer.
Instead, explain why they think the colour scheme is incorrect. Perhaps you feel it doesn’t set the right mood, or that certain elements haven’t been made prominent enough. Your designer can then use that information to work out how to solve the problem rather than taking your direct instruction on it. He or she may have other recommendations that accomplish the same goal, but in a more effective manner.
Avoid designing by committee
As we mentioned earlier, design is subjective. So showing the mockups to more people than is necessary can add complication to the decision making process. Aim to keep your decision makers to a minimum. By trying to please each decision maker, the design becomes a collection of compromises. So while it may not offend anyone, it will most likely not inspire anyone either.
In an ideal world, it is best that your designer obtain feedback on an individual level with each stakeholder to ensure that their design needs have been met. This approach will lead to more honest feedback, as canvassing the entire team at once usually leads to “groupthink”. Often a single person’s idea is agreed to en masse, so as to avoid any internal conflict among the group. We’ve seen some of the greatest designs become watered down to mediocrity in this very fashion.
As well, it is important to understand the pitfalls of receiving input from outside influences (who are not your actual website users). By spending countless hours discussing your website’s design you will have a clear understanding of why certain decisions have been made. The danger comes when you present work to colleagues (or your spouse, or your neighbour, etc.) who have absolutely no context to the design process (including its objectives). If you must present your design to someone outside of the group of decision makers, make sure to brief them on the design so that they understand why it has turned out the way it has.
Testing is your best asset
If you are unsure about the direction of a design (or perhaps just an element of the design), have a discussion with your designer. If after this talk you still don’t see eye to eye on the reasoning for the approach, it is best to put the options to a test.
There are several online tools that will allow you to get quick feedback from a larger sample of people. This allows design comments to be provided by those who are outside the inner circle of the project. If need be, the demographics of these testers can be highly refined to better match your expected user base. Testing the design will give you the confidence that things are heading in the right direction.
Nothing is permanent
It’s important to remember that unlike print design, the web as a medium can be changed at any point in time. Making a design decision is not as critical as choosing whether to cut the red wire or the black wire.
If you put something live that doesn’t appear to gel with your users, it can easily be changed. The same is true with written content. With many projects we work on, we often see clients hesitant to launch until exactly 100% of the content has been reviewed, right down to the last comma. This can add weeks (and in many cases months) to time it takes for the site to go “live”. During this time, your new design and content is not accessible and you will be relying on your existing site for your online marketing efforts, all because of a handful of paragraphs on third-level pages that require some minor copyediting.
What it all comes down to is trust. You’ve hired your web designer to handle a task that you are not capable of doing yourself. So give him or her all the effort you can to help them produce the best work that they can. Doing so will not only make for a better design for your users, but will make the design process an exciting and more efficient.