Earlier I wrote a post about how to give feedback on a website. It was less about the ins-and-outs of giving feedback, and more about a tool you can use to make it easy to deliver your feedback. This time I’m going to talk a little bit about ways to give helpful feedback to your web designer.

  • Narrow your search. If you’re working with a website designer, hopefully you’ve both done your homework to make sure you’re a good fit. As a site owner, you want someone whose aesthetic range works well with your own. Just like if you’re into a traditional-looking house, you wouldn’t hire an architect who focuses on uber modern design to build your dream house, you want to make sure the designer you choose is really good at the kind of design you and your existing/potential customers prefer. Most designers have a range of styles in which they work, and they’re usually available for your perusal via their website. If you’ve received a design proposal that seems out of left field make sure the designer fully understands your goals and your target audience. As a web designer, make sure you understand the goals of the project – and if you get the sense at the outset that you won’t be a good fit for the client for whatever reason, don’t be afraid to let the client know & move on to your next project.
  • Communicate clearly. Before the design phase begins, make sure any specific wants/needs are communicated. This could be things like coordinating with an existing brand, or making an intentional departure from a previous design. I hesitate to include things like a specific layout, because the goal of your site should be driving the layout, and if you hired a talented designer they’ll be able to create a layout that will work best for your project. Also, while it’s important for your website to stand out and be unique, you don’t want to create something alien to your customers. There are certain web-based standards that users look for — locations for things like search and login, or navigation, or copyright and privacy info. There’s little incentive to reinventing the wheel here. In most cases you want creativity around how to best display your messaging in a clear way, both aesthetically and through text… not creativity around how to totally reinvent the way a user expects a website to work. If you’re finding that your feedback is focused on coming up with never-before-seen ways to present information – be wary.
  • Focus on goals, not miniscule details. When giving feedback on a proposed design, work hard to communicate what’s not delivering on the needs of the project rather than suggesting specific alternative design solutions. Remember that you (hopefully) hired a designer to come up with solutions to help you meet your goals, not to work Photoshop on your behalf. Think back to the audience for your site (who is often not you) and what will resonate with them. For example, if your site caters to a mature audience and your designer gives you something with tiny type, communicate that a mature audience will need better legibility rather than a specific font size.   Often, competing demands mean compromise – so if you’ve specifically requested a tremendous amount of info on a single page but you don’t want anything displayed below the fold, and tiny type is a method of meeting your requirements – consider identifying the *source* of the problem, or give your designer an opportunity to identify a solution for you. Perhaps it’s not tiny type that needs fixing – perhaps it’s reducing the amount of text, or breaking something out into different pages or tabs to allow for the legibility and white space that will make your site appealing and usable for your audience.  If your feedback only offers suggestions rather than identifying problems, your designer can’t do the job you hired them to do.
  • Keep an open mind. Remember that the client drives the project, but it’s good when a designer pushes back on something that steers away from meeting the client’s goals. As a client you are an expert in what you do, and hopefully you know your customer/audience really well. So, it’s up to you to clearly communicate your business, customer profile and business goals to your designer. If you are muddy on your goals, or you’re asking for competing notions (like a really dark, moody design for a website about a cheery kid’s book), you’re going to end up with a muddy website. Sure, it might be beautiful, but if it doesn’t resonate with your audience, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is. Remember that your web designer is an expert too — an expert in translating what you want your website to do/be into a design that works to meet your goals. Rely on them for this. If you want someone to tell you all your ideas are great, and to create something that was really designed by a committee of you, your Mom, and the person you met recently at the grocery store, don’t be surprised if what you end up with isn’t a great design. Just like you (hopefully) wouldn’t stand over your plumber while they’re working on your new bathroom and tell them that your spouse thought maybe they should put the drain pipe slightly to the left because they heard it’ll work better that way.
  • Do your homework. The more prepared you are with your goals, information about your target audience, information about your competition, and likes/dislikes, the easier it’ll be to work with your designer. Think of it this way, if you went into a restaurant not knowing what you want & expected the chef to read your mind, who knows whether you’ll get something you want? If you like Italian food & you’re in an Italian restaurant, you’re on the right track, but no one will be happy if you receive something then send it back again and again because it’s not right.  Don’t be surprised if in such a scenario if everyone gets downright upset or despondent, or things get really expensive. Being prepared means that you’re more likely to find a designer who is a good fit from the outset, and more likely to end up with a site that really works for you quickly and painlessly.
  • Be realistic about your budget.  To keep the food analogies going — if you buy a sandwich from a food cart, it’ll be inexpensive and potentially quiet delicious, but it’s not the same experience as a sit-down dinner at a 4-star restaurant — if your feedback is asking for one from the other, you’re likely to be disappointed.  If you’re on a limited budget, work with your designer to get the best bang for your buck, but don’t expect 4-star when you can only afford 2 — that goes for output and service.  Also, it’s unrealistic to expect a designer to continually revise, especially when stabbing in the dark, without charging you to do so.  It’s in your best interest (and that of the bottom line) to be prepared, clear, but also realistic when it comes to your project. There are great solutions out there for every price range, you just need to find the best fit.
  • Don’t make it personal. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and sometimes it’s a struggle. Often that’s because someone wasn’t prepared. But sometimes it’s just the way it goes. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to make it about anything other than what’s best for the project. If both parties are open and responsive, you’ll work through any snags quickly and without any hurt feelings. Mind reading gets you into trouble, and assumptions are rarely helpful so keep your feedback focused and clear and ask questions when you have them. If you ramble on-and-on as a way to work through your ideas, you don’t need to send your ramblings to your designer. Write them up for yourself, then pull out some clear points to send on. Doing so shows respect for your designer and their time, and allows them to respond quickly with a solution.

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