When talking to owner-mangers of small/mid-sized businesses, more often than not, I hear the same complaint: they are not fully happy with their website. In fact, for many new clients, this issue with their website is the catalyst that brings us and the owner-manager together: they don’t like their website, and they just need someone to help them sort it out. In these situations, we are obviously more than happy to help.
Anyway, so what is the most important stage in your website’s design?…
It’s immediately after the first design concept.
(NB. Some might tell you that the ‘brief’ is the most important stage. In theory they’re right but in reality, many business owners aren’t really sure what they like in terms of overall design until they see it. That’s no criticism of business owners; they’re good at running a business, not at articulating the finer points of design).
What is the ‘first design’?
Most web design agencies will take your brief, then create a design, either as a static image, or as a sample website. They will send you the design and ask you to approve it, or provide any amendments.
Why is this stage so important?
The ‘first design’ stage is often the source of the feeling “we’re not fully happy with our website”. This is because, when the client first sees their website’s design, there will be aspects of it that they don’t like (or maybe they didn’t like it at all). But what typically happens is the business owner struggles to explain to the web design agency what it was about the design that they don’t like (as I say, they’re business people, not creative specialists). So the client gets frustrated because they can’t put their finger on what’s not right about subsequent designs the designer creates and the designer doesn’t know what changes the business owner is asking for. Often this results in a compromise where the client settles for one of the designs because they just can’t put any more time into it, but underneath “isn’t fully happy with it”.
This might seem like a very specific situation, but it actually happens a lot.
So, here’s some tips on how to assess that first design.
1. Trust your immediate instinct
You only get one chance to see your website design for the first time. Use it carefully. View it as your likely website visitor would (what will they want to see?), then immediately jot down your thoughts and feelings about the website design. At this stage, if the site isn’t quite right, you don’t need to understand why you don’t like it, just make sure you capture your thoughts and feelings.
2. Break down those thoughts and feelings
For starters, group the ‘general’ and the ‘specific’ thoughts into two groups. At this stage you should be less concerned by the specifics (e.g. move that heading here, add a page link there etc). The specifics are easy to change and will get done before the site goes live. For now, concentrate on the general thoughts – e.g. “it appears a bit flat”, or “it doesn’t look as professional as I’d hoped”, or “I was hoping for something more stylish” etc. List them down.
3. Look at other websites and compare
The more time you spend doing this, the better. Look at other sites that do match-up to your expectations of being stylish enough or professional enough etc. Make a list of sites. Try to use varied site examples that might look quite different, but that all live up to the expectations you have for your own site (NB. If your site examples all have a similar style, you risk the designer just copying this style).
Now, whatever you do, do not give the designer specifics about what it is about those sites that you like – it is their job to look at those sites and see which elements they might be able to pull together and make work in your design. If you do give specifics, you will then forever more be looked at as the person who gives the design direction and the designer will just do as you ask to get the job done – this is a lose:lose situation.
4. Don’t feel like you should fix the ‘design problem’
The designer might want more guidance from you and might want some specifics on what you like about your list of websites. For the moment, I would continue to avoid these specifics. The designer might not thank you for it in the short term, but when they’ve had time to go away, think about a new design concept and create something new, they will ultimately be happier that they are still in charge of the design, rather than trying to shoe-horn in possibly mix-matching design specifics you have given. In basic terms, you have to pass the ‘design problem’ back to the designer, they then need to interpret your list of thoughts and feelings and your list of other websites into a new design that works.