Every now and again I am reminded that it’s easy to get swept up in the details rather than focusing on the bigger picture when designing a website. As website designers we need to keep focused, because we’re really serving two needs:

  1. Design (and possibly implement) an engaging, usable, website design to sell a product or service, or to act as a resource.
  2. Help the owner of the website understand the goals for their website as part of their business, so that their website works for them, even when they’re not working.

It’s often easy to assume that someone looking to have a website fully understands and acknowledges their overall goals for their website. To create a successful website design, the client needs to fully understand their goals, and their designer does too.

The aesthetic of a website is a big part of it – it sets the overall tone, it needs to coordinate/match existing branding, it sends a powerful message about intention & personality, and it helps the site visitor know they’re in the right place.

Frequently, however, website owners quickly and insufficiently address what they want site visitors to take away from their experience with their site beyond the aesthetic (eg: a purchase, a signup to a service, brand clarity, etc…), and then spend lots of time worried about whether some specific text should be slightly less blue (for example). In some cases, it’s important to be concerned with an exact blue. Maybe you’ve already got a Pantone blue you use for branding throughout. Or maybe it’s an issue of prominence, priority of information or clarity. But many times website owners get wrapped up in details that are mostly about their personal preference, and at the end of the day, it won’t matter to the user — it’ll only matter to the person/people who owns the site.

Scenarios like this can be a tricky line to navigate as a designer. Do you have a duty as a designer to tell a website owner when they’re focusing on the wrong thing? How much time are you willing to invest in helping someone achieve their specific vision for something before you are no longer a designer and are just pushing a pencil (so to speak)?

In my experience, one answer is to gather lots of information up front & to ask the right questions. This gives the client a chance to really think through their goals. Then, during the design process, you can weigh decisions against the goals. But that doesn’t always work out the way that you hope. When all is said and done, sometimes making the client happy turns out to be the goal, regardless if it ends of in a truly well design website.