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The saying, “A picture tells a thousand words” doesn’t hold true for good web design. In fact, quite the opposite is true; good design doesn’t speak for itself: it requires an advocate to convince your clients that the web design is truly good. This is particularly so because we rarely design for ourselves; we do it for customers, sometimes fussy customers whom we have to convince about the reliability and usefulness of the design.
In this article I will examine why a design has to be justified in the eyes of the client; and how we can accomplish this in a precise and understandable way. Though I will put the focus on visuals, the underlying principles laid out here can be applied to all kinds of creative undertakings.
Just Talk Won’t Do
A famous English author/playwright said that persons, who are capable of doing things, do it; those who cannot, take up teaching!
I do not agree with this statement; but I have some sympathy for its tone. It is the result of the disappointment that follows when the difference between theory and practice of a discipline becomes glaring.
To some extent, web design is free of this criticism as it is a pretty practical field, besides being a new one. But here too we find college professors inculcating in design students the art of good layouts with the use of tables!
On the other hand there are the salespersons. They may not be able to articulate things in a precise, scientific manner, but they sure can make a persuasive argument. Somebody coined the term “truth massage.” This refers to these super sales folk – who, to quote a phrase, can sell a comb to a bald person if they had to! But we don’t need just super-salespersons or teachers to explain our designs.
We have to link design practice with design theory. And for this we must learn to articulate properly and put forward strong arguments to make a good case for our web designs.
Importance of Communication
Some people think marketing is a dirty word, which it isn’t. The advertising as well as marketing industries can teach us much about the significance and import of communication. Some kind of advertising is glaring: it shouts at the buyer to buy, buy! But obviously much thinking and brainstorming was done before the message was finalized and analysis of how it would be received was done.
In web design, the art of communication is generally much more subtle. It’s a tactful balance of achieving business needs and satisfying users. In this, design can simplify business processes and persuade users to buy.
Take the case of a registration form. Businesses generally require as much personal information from users so that they can simplify and realize their marketing goals. But, conversely, users are reluctant to provide too much personal info and long forms put them off.
In this case, experience has shown that ‘the user is always right.” As a result, forms for registration now usually consist of an email address along with a password. Business aims are not given the short shrift, though; reduced efforts to sign up means more users who register for the site for people are now more willing to give their email address. Also, a short form fixes easily on most pages and grabs users’ attention.
Design is a Deduction Process
Design is a deduction process. It incorporates many decisions – some conscious, some instinctive. The designer may dismiss some ideas in the web development procedure as unworkable and go after others to find the right solution. This process may be totally unfathomable to the client and it is the designer’s job to inform the client and disclose to them the design procedure.
Designers and website professionals must not fear criticism for good design can easily handle criticism; it is not simply a matter of taste. Take advantage of criticism to explain why you took those decisions in your web design; get the clients into the world of design so that they feel that they are a part of the designing process.
Learn the Vocabulary
We must know the language so that we can explain the designs to our customers. To translate a visual medium into a literary one is a complicated task. Designers may be well versed in design language, but when it comes to articulating the same to others, they struggle.
Another problem designer’s face is knowledge that is assumed by them. That is, they fail to realize that most of their design knowledge and understanding is due to their experience: and they show little patience to clients who resist their suggestions. In these cases it’s best to get back to the fundamentals of design. Explain to them the basics of high-quality visual design, which is believed to be the basis of all visual design strategies, as Wikipedia puts it.
Make An Argument That’s Convincing
Finally, if our aim is to make the client understand the importance of our design then we must have convincing arguments to put our point across. Clients are human after all and all human beings have their biases. So structure your argument in the best perspective to fully convince your clients.
Clients generally have a host of pressures to cope with. Since they have to consider various prospects of the website, understanding their expectations at the start will help you greatly at every step of the way. Some of these expectations will be made formal and form the basic objectives of the design. They must be documented and made essential to the design preparation. There may be some politically motivated expectations; these tend to be tougher to identify. While it isn’t advisable to play politics, understanding your clients’ motivations surely help as the project picks up speed.
These motivations generally fall into the following 5 categories:
- Return on engagement (ROE)
- Usability and accessibility
- Return on investment (ROI)
The client in general will sympathize with some solutions and be antagonistic to others. Let’s take a look at one of these factors in detail.
Accessibility And Usability
Usability, along with accessibility, must be the basic considerations in all design jobs, but very rarely are they client-driven. They are motivators with government and service-oriented customers as well as for not-for-profit organizations which seek to include all audience segments.
Here Flash and other similar technologies can be shot down at once for their inaccessibility. Decisions relating to font, color and clarity, which will have a major impact on the overall appearance and touch of the design, will also be impacted by this.
An understanding of this at the beginning will help you correct the framework for the design and make it more appealing to the customer.
How To Present Your Case
You must always portray a design to the customer in person. If that’s not possible, then remote conferencing will suffice. Don’t send it as an email attachment. If you do that you will:
– Appear thoroughly unprofessional.
– Lose control of the environment in which your design is being viewed
After having decided on a time to show your design, you should proceed to settle precise expectations for the encounter with the client.
Remember, the manner in which you reveal a design is of great significance.
If you turn up for a meeting with professional, printed signboards of your design, you will be shooting off two divergent messages. Because, whatever you talk about drafting ideas and looking into new concepts, your boards will tell an entirely different tale.
There are many tools at a designer’s disposal like wireframes, sketches, mood boards, flat designs, scamps, HTML templates and even napkins. Pick the one that expresses the right quantity of professionalism and at the same time offers adequate flexibility.
Remember, whatever outcomes you may expect at the meeting, make sure to talk about them, and get consent, before making even one decision.
Clients really want to lend a hand in the process, but this can be less constructive and more damaging at times. So bring the customers on board and tell them your objectives. Ask the clients to inspect the design from this viewpoint and make use of it to outline their comments. They should think themselves as the site’s quality control executive given the right to tell you where you may have steered away from your principles. This will help you get plenty of helpful criticism.
- Your design must have an advocate.
- Use simple language when explaining the design.
- If it can be done, get your customer on board the design process.
- Don’t fear criticism; good design is not simply a matter of taste.
- Be ready to change components that you cannot convincingly argue for.
- Translate your visuals into words — it may be a tough task, but do it.
- Use the correct context to push a convincing argument.
- Always show the completed design in person to your client and make sure that your expectations are explained before making even one decision.
- Take pride in your work! Allow your design to say some words!
I hope you have liked this article; I will be happy to receive your feedback by way of comments.