The best thing you can do to improve the quality of work and help make the entire process more efficient (which means less work, and hours, for both of us!) is to provide specific & constructive feedback. Here’s a little guide that’ll help you out with the feedback process and help things to run more smoothly.
Before we even begin, do you feel like you have a clear understanding of the process? If you have any questions as to the terms, process, or schedule, this is the time to ask. Make sure you fill out your Project Planner as completely and detailed as possible. The more information we have to work with, the better we can accomplish your goals.
Some general things.
At each stage of giving feedback, spend some time with the design and really make sure you’ve got everything and are sure about your requests. It is time-consuming to make changes and edits, so be complete in your feedback. Compile all your notes in ONE response and send only when you are absolutely ready.
Understand that design is interconnected. So it may not be so easy to simply change the color of one element without affecting the entire design.
Not sure about something? Ask us. We’re supposed to be the experts, that’s why you hired us right? So if you don’t understand why something is the way it is, ask us to explain it to you.
We may provide you with a Draftest link where you can rate various designs. This will help us hone in on your aesthetic, style, tone, & layout. Use your first impressions. And provide feedback if it seems useful. Don’t be discouraged if many if the designs are not to your liking. This is a tool for honing in, so we may intentionally include designs that we know you might not like or different styles so we can be absolutely sure.
Interactive Demo of Website.
While looking at the interactive demo of your website, be thorough in your evaluation. Make sure everything LOOKS the way it’s supposed to, but also make sure it WORKS the way it’s supposed to. Check all the various page elements: Header, Footer, Navigation, Body. Check to make sure all links work (including social media buttons, navigation, etc.). Are all fonts displaying correctly and is all text styled appropriately? Check the display of all link properties: Link Colors, Active & Hover State Colors, Alt Text. Check the spacing. Is everything aligned correctly? If we’ve asked you to check the content, make sure all copy is there and correct. Proofread. Test all functionality (image sliders, contact forms, gallery, etc.) Check the website on multiple browsers and operating systems. Also check the website on a mobile device.
Giving Better Design Feedback.
[Excerpts from “Giving Better Design Feedback” by Mike Monteiro.]
It’s Not Art.
First rule of design feedback: what you’re looking at is not art. It’s not even close. It’s a business tool in the making and should be looked at objectively like any other business tool you work with. The right question is not, “Do I like it?” but “Does this meet our goals?” If it’s blue, don’t ask yourself whether you like blue. Ask yourself if blue is going to help you sell sprockets. Better yet: ask your design team. You just wrote your first feedback question.
I Don’t Know Anything About Design.
Who cares? Your customers probably don’t know anything about design either, and the project’s ultimate success rides on how they respond to it.
Let the design team be the design experts. Your job is to be the business expert. Ask them how their design solutions meet your business goals. If you trust your design team, and they can explain how their recommendations map to those goals, you’re fine. If you neither trust them, nor can they defend their choices it’s time to get a new design team.
Good vs Bad.
Good feedback relates back to goals and user needs. Bad feedback is subjective and prescriptive.
For example “There’s way too much going on here and the “Add to Cart” button gets lost.” That’s excellent feedback. Relates to the goal of the page, which is to apparently sell something, and communicates a problem to be solved, which is to get rid of all the junk on the page.
Avoid personal preferences: “I hate green.” There is absolutely nothing I can do with that statement other than feel sorry for you because there are some very nice green things in the world. Like money—which you’re now wasting by giving me bad feedback.
Prescriptive feedback comes along the lines of “Move the buttons over here.” And, of course, everyone’s favorite: “Make the logo bigger!” These may, in fact, be excellent ideas, but if we talked about the problems you’re trying to solve with these prescriptive solutions we might come up with better solutions or possibly uncover a bigger problem in the overall design system.
It’s like walking into your doctors office and demanding a prescription for penicillin. Could be that’s actually what you need, but there’s no way you’re walking out of that office without the pants coming down.
Not sure about something? Ask. Don’t wait until the feedback is due. Pick up the phone and ask your design team for further clarification to write your feedback.
Distill Your Feedback.
“John in marketing wants to be able to log in directly on the home page, but Tim in Engineering would prefer it on its own page. Can we compromise?”
No. We cannot compromise.
If you tell your barber that you like it short, but your significant other likes it long, you’re gonna get a mullet.
Listen to your team’s feedback, weigh the plusses and minuses, and then compile a clearly written feedback document full of strong decisions. There is no way to design a solution to an internal debate. Nor should that debate be passed along for your customers to suffer through. If members of your team have varying ideas on something, iron it out. Invite your design team to join in the debate. They should be eager to as it informs their work. But reconciling feedback is important to moving the process along successfully. Again; having to sort through 10 pages of internal disagreement means lost time and lost budget.
[Read the entire article here: “Giving Better Design Feedback” by Mike Monteiro]
Beyond ‘I Don’t Like It.’
[Excerpts from “Beyond ‘I Don’t Like It'” by Jeff White]
Getting it right from the start: providing good direction.
So, how do you make sure your project starts off on the right foot? Tell us what you want from the beginning. It’s weird, but big agencies are really the only ones who sort of get this process dialed. Probably because they have the staff and overhead and understand the process enough to get it right. If you’re giving a project to a designer, you need to be prepared to put in some time up front as well. And your designer should ask the questions you haven’t answered in your [Project Planner] or initial discussions. The most important things to learn for any project, whether it’s a web site, email campaign, logo, ad campaign or anything, really.
Obviously we’ll need to know the background about your company. Where did you come from? How did you get here? What marketing has been done in the past? Are samples available?
What does the audience look like? Are they old? Young? Male? Female? What’s their level of expertise? Is it a captive audience, running out-of-date hardware or software? More research will need to be done into this group by the creative team, but it’s good to have a starting point.
What are your goals for the campaign? More email signups? Actual sales? A list of prospects? Brand awareness? Mentions in traditional media? It’s amazing how often this question never gets asked, especially when it comes to building web sites, which are often seen as a must have with no particular purpose other than to provide information. And this is ok, but it still needs to be understood.
Who are your competitors? What do their websites look like? How do you compare to them? What’s better about your product than theirs? What threats do you foresee?
I once had a client who sent me a link to a competitor’s website as an example of what he liked. He wanted me to download everything from the site, change the logo and the name and repost the site. Of course, no ethical designer would ever do this. But that doesn’t stop people from asking.
What do you like? Dislike? Keep in mind, that really this should have absolutely no bearing on what gets produced. Although it’s your project and needs to represent you, it’s really your customer’s site or logo. In the court of opinion, theirs matters more than yours. Sorry. More on this later.
And lastly, prepare to be challenged by your creative team. If they’re doing their job right, they should be making you comfortable that you’ve chosen the right team, but perhaps a bit uncomfortable with the probing questions.
Putting it into words.
This is the hard part for many people. It really often does go back to what you like and dislike and being able to find the words to describe what you want. The trouble is, the visual language of creatives is by necessity more developed than most clients.
What does it mean when you say that you want your site to be modern? And how is modern different from contemporary or trendy?
For the love of all things holy and even some things that aren’t, don’t ever say “I don’t know what I want, I’ll know it when I see it.” That just wastes everyone’s time. Clients are as responsible for the success of a project as the creative team. Giving good direction is the client’s responsibility. Without good direction, you have no one to blame but yourself when the design doesn’t meet your needs. We can’t read minds (although that won’t stop us from trying!).
Design is a process and it takes requirements analysis, objective research and goals that need to be met to really achieve success. If you haven’t set any goalposts at all, but instead just want the designer to noodle, that’s all well and good–but don’t expect that noodling to come in on budget or on target. There is no target in this situation.
Words we loathe.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with a designer and used any of these words as creative direction, you’re not helping them achieve your goals.
- Make it pop
- Push it
- Think outside the box
- Have fun with it
Now, of course you want the designer to have fun with it, but unless you have given additional direction on top of that, they’re not going to be able to take that anywhere. These words are completely devoid of meaning when used as direction. The only time they’re useful is when describing something that has already been created.
Getting the Context Right.
Everything in communication design needs to be pragmatic. In other words, it needs to understand the context in which it exists.
For example, a bed and breakfast, located in an historic part of the city, housed in a hundred year old Victorian mansion might use the following words to describe their desires for a website:
Whereas, a startup business providing software as a service to twenty and thirty somethings might look for an interface that is:
An architecture firm that specializes in creating buildings for progressive clients might need a website that embodies these qualities:
And lastly, a site for a bar/club that organizes late night live music shows might look:
The great thing about all of these terms is that they immediately create a mood. When combined, they help to build a persona for the site, similar to the way that UX designers will create personas for people who might visit a site. You’ll note that many of these terms cross boundaries and are quite similar.
For example, contemporary in the context of the bar site would mean in keeping with styles as seen in the music industry, but in the context of the startup software company, it might mean to make it more like the look and feel of the 37Signals site, a leader in the online software business.
Although they sound like they mean the same thing, Modern and Contemporary, to a designer are very different. Technically, Modern refers to an era in the late 50s and 60s, a period that brought us the Bauhaus and the Eames chair. At this point in time, both of these ideas of ‘modern’ are decidedly ‘retro’. Yeah. I know.
However, all is not lost. It’s important when dealing with a designer to explain what your idea of ‘modern’ is. This is where the creation of a solid brief at the beginning of the project comes in. It’s perfectly acceptable to call something modern, as long as you explain what your version of modern looks like by showing examples.
And from the good folks over at WeeNudge, a few more resources:
What is The Fold?
What are Wireframes?
More on Giving Feedback.