Getting Your Designs Approved
Larissa Meek takes to the stage to talk about getting design sign-off. She’s got 12 simple rules but remember, every client is different so these kind of cover the best-case scenario.
In the ideal scenario, the client loves your first round of comps. In reality, you get comments like
I don’t like blue,
make the logo bigger or
something is missing. That last one is particularly frustrating as a piece of feedback.
Remember, design is subjective—everyone has a different idea about what constitutes good design. Another problem is that comps aren’t interactive. Also, it can be hard for a client to grasp new, innovative ideas. The reason why everyone has an opinion on Web design is that everyone uses the Web.
Make friends with your client. Your client is not your enemy. They get as frustrated as you. Try to see things from their point of view. A lot of them are overworked; this Web thing might not be the only project they are juggling.
Ask lots of questions. What are the business objectives? What does the client want to get out of the site? This might differ from what the user might want from the site. Consider the hot dog. It’s basically a piece of meat on some bread. How would you ask questions about hot dogs… what are hot dogs? why are they called hot dogs? why are they kosher? what does kosher mean? why are hot dog buns longer than the hot dogs? what’s the best way to cook a hot dog? why are hot dogs associated with baseball? hot dogs? hot dogs? hot dogs? …the hot dog entertainment is interrupted as Larissa’s Windows laptop attempts an auto-update. Whoops.
Ask more questions — who will be using the site? Sometimes the client hasn’t really considered this question. User profiles help. These are often overlooked but they help in those tough spots with the client when you need ammunition to justify a design decision. You can argue that you’re doing what’s best for a user rather than just defending your own opinion.
Use wireframes but don’t be tied to them. Clients can’t always make the leap to visualise how wireframes will differ from the final product. But wireframes are a great conversation starter. Together you can answer a lot of questions before getting to the design stage. This gets them to think about functionality and see things from the user’s point of view. Walk your clients through wireframes. Try to use real copy instead of greeked text. Larissa also things that wireframes should be “to scale” but to me that sounds like she means layout. (Personally, I consider that to be a design decision. Hierarchy in wireframes, yes; layout, no. Larissa says that subtle changes are okay. I guess we just draw the line in a slightly different place.)
Talk about design before you even open up Photoshop. Try to nail mood and colour before you start creating comps. The client’s input is important at this stage. If the client has a style guide, you must understand it. You can give the client site examples and colour palettes. Create a quick mood board.
One design direction will do. Too many options are overwhelming. The client will probably like a little bit from each design and you end up with a piecemeal design cobbled together from various bits. Really, at this stage you should be focused on one design direction. Designing should not be like a take-out menu.
Present in the browser. Don’t just email it. You can send additonal documentation but you really need to walk a client through a design in a browser. Your client might have to sell the design on to the next person in the chain so they need to know how to walk through the design.
Prototype as needed. Not every site needs it but for Web apps, it’s very important. Prototypes help you figure out things from a user’s point of view. Fireworks is a good tool for this.
Ask for consolidated feedback and limited rounds of revisions. Try to avoid committees. You don’t want to be getting contradictory feedback in bits and pieces. You’ll probably need to educate your client in how the feedback round should work. Too much haphazard feedback leads to scope creep. Control the feedback and you can keep your project on track. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Remember, everyone has a different opinion on what constitutes good design. Help your clients focus. Ask for specific feedback.
Be confident in your work. This can be difficult for new designers and also for freelancers who don’t have the support of a team. You have to be confident so you don’t go to your client asking
hey, is this right?Instead, you want to explaining the informed the design decisions you made.
Time will tell. A lot of clients don’t realise what goes into a site. It takes time for them to learn. It’s easier with clients you’ve worked with before. Getting sign-off is easier once a relationship has been established.
Make the most of a difficult situation. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s easy to get frustrated in a design project. You need to take a step back and rediscover what it is you love about the project. Try to focus on the positive and move forward in an optimistic way. Then you’ll feel like you’re working with the client instead of against them.
Those are the twelve points. As is this The Future of Web Design conference, let’s ask
what’s the future of getting designs approved? What are the best practices? It’s hard to tell. Every project is different. Every designer is different. But there is a Society of Digital Agencies which is intended as a platform for designers to figure out the best processes and guidelines. It has 18 “leading” digital agencies apparently.
To wrap, remember that the 12 rules outlined here are a best-case scenario. Come to terms with the fact that no project goes exactly to plan. Larissa now reiterates the 12 points in case we missed them the first time ‘round.