5 Solid Tips for Providing Feedback to a Web Designer

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JV Media Design (JVM)
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When working with a web designer, your job, is to provide feedback. Good feedback equals a smooth process. Here are 5 solid tips for providing feedback.

A General Overview on How a Web Designer Should Work

Generally, at the beginning of the project, you will go over the primary and any secondary goals for your site. The web designer will discuss how to accomplish those goals from a functionality perspective. I’ve written other articles on determining your target audience and making sure there are clear goals, if you want to get deeper into that. Additionally, you and your designer should be on the same page when it comes to revisions and how those work (is there a limit to revisions, do you get 1 design concept or multiple, etc.) and that should be spelled out in your agreement/contract. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that stuff will have been sorted out.

Once the design process has started and your web designer is ready to show you the initial concept, they should always discuss up front what exactly it is you should be evaluating and providing feedback on. For example, the home page of your new site. The designer should explain each element of the layout and elaborate on how the choices made for design and placement work to meet the goals and match up with any previous discussions you have had.

Few things are worse than when a designer simply sends you a PDF or a link and basically says, “here’s your new design!” and that’s it. It may not look anything like you envisioned and could create knee-jerk reactions that in turn cause you to provide feedback that really isn’t helpful, but through no fault of your own. After All, you’re not a designer – that’s why you’ve paid a professional who is. It’s the designer’s job to fully explain all the decisions that go into a page or why something was placed a certain way.

It’s also the designer’s job to take the feedback and make changes to achieve the final design. Your job is to provide that feedback. The better the feedback is that you give, the smoother the whole process becomes.

5 Solid Tips for Providing Feedback

#1: Don’t Rule by Committee

Whether you’re a sole proprietor or you work for a company with other employees and have been tasked with the website project, try to avoid too many cooks in the kitchen. Few things are more daunting from the perspective of a web designer than having to deal with multiple people who all have different opinions on what the website design should look like. This is also an excellent way to completely derail your project and end up with something that is far from the original goals.

The best scenario is to have a single point of contact for the project. It could be you or it could be someone else in the company.  If you still have to deal with a committee, make it the responsibility of that one point of contact to organize and filter feedback from everyone else.

Tips for what to do if you’re forced into a committee scenario:

If you have to deal with a committee, make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure they’re aware of the goals and audience for the site. Inevitably, someone will have a suggestion that totally comes out of left field. It’s going to be your responsibility to explain to that person that the suggestion doesn’t align with the goals of the project. If for some reason this isn’t possible (perhaps it’s your boss making the suggestion), then take the feedback to the designer and explain the situation. The designer should be able to come up with an eloquent way to explain why that suggestion isn’t conducive to the bottom line.

If everyone seems to have different suggestions and you still feel they’re all inline with the goals, then combine/compile them in some sort of order. I’ve gotten Word docs before where it seemed like my point of contact just circulated the document around the office and everyone added their 2 cents – some of which were repeats of suggestions above. After you collect feedback and you’ve weeded out any that are not inline with any goals/out of left field, or duplicates, organize them as they relate to the design concept from the top to the bottom.

You may be tempted to get the opinions of others outside the company, friends, relatives, etc. but take all of that with a grain of salt. Most people are going to give you their personal option (and I’m about to tell you on tip #2 why that’s bad). This may sound harsh, but unless they’re part of your target audience, or a colleague who may have marketing or web design experience, their opinion does not matter.

#2: Don’t Make It Personal

Keep your target audience in mind at all times. It’s very easy to personalize the design by applying what you like. But you have to ask yourself, “Am I part of my target audience?” At the end of the day, you (or your company) may be paying for this service (which makes it very easy to slide down that slope of wanting it to be perfect for you) but in most cases, it isn’t for you. Even on sites that revolve around an individual (for example, a personal fitness trainer) a balance must be achieved in presenting the person/what they offer and appealing to the target audience.

Tips for giving feedback when you’re tempted to make it personal:

Step back from the project for a minute and pretend that you are your ideal client/customer. Would they like it? Would they find it easy to use/intuitive? Would they be urged to do what you want them to do (click a button, go deeper into the site, download a file, pick up the phone and call you…)? Pretending to be a member of your target audience is a great way to remove your personal taste out of the equation.

Also, keep in mind that if you aren’t part of your own target audience but you make the designer make changes to the site to suit your own personal likes, you’re kind of throwing away your investment. You may end up with a site you love, but one that doesn’t convert and work for your business. Remember, your website is a large part of your marketing.

#3: Keep Project Goals in Mind

Much like how you should always keep your target audience in mind, you should always keep the goals of the project in mind as well. How does the design meet those original needs? When you lose sight of those needs, it’s very easy to get off track.

Tips for giving feedback concerning goals:

Think about each goal and then determine if the design presented actually aligns with that goal. For example, if the main goal of your site is to capture a lead (such as a name, email, and phone number), is that blatantly apparent? Within 3-5 seconds, does the design catch your attention and give you some compelling reason why you should hang around long enough and eventually want to give your contact info? Typically, you have to offer a solution to a problem your audience has and give compelling evidence as to why you’re qualified to offer that solution.

Again, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. You should know what your audience wants and why they would choose your business over someone else. Maybe you’ve got a lot of great testimonials that helps new customers feel confident in choosing you. Are those included in the design? If not, mentioning you think they should be included and why is great feedback.

#4: Don’t Be Vague

Designers can be wonderfully creative, but can’t always translate vague input and direction into what exactly will work for the client’s needs. Designers that may have less experience dealing with clients and feedback may have more difficulty when given phrases like, “I’d like to see the design ‘pop’ more.” That phrase can translate to a lot of different things, but in my experience, when a client gives feedback like that, they’re having more trouble with the design that they can’t quite put their finger on. This is often directly related to having fuzzy goals to begin with or a designer just missing the mark and not having a clear call to action on the page.

Tips for when you’re struggling with what to say:

Always explain why. Why do you feel it doesn’t “pop”? Is it because all the colors are soft/muted? Is there no clear call to action? Back up any feedback with an explanation and relate it back to the goals. For example, “We talked about wanting to use the site for lead generation, but I don’t see a clear path for the visitor to take to contact me or give me their information?” or, “We talked initially about using colors complimentary to my logo, but the softer grays don’t seem to call attention to the things that we want the visitor to take action on, like filling out the form.”

#5: Don’t Beat around the Bush

I’ve had clients who were so afraid of hurting my feelings, that they basically just clammed up or tried to avoid actually saying what was on their mind. After the project seemed to be going smooth, I get an email out of the blue wanting to cancel the whole project because they didn’t think it was working out. Of course when feedback such as, “yeah, looks fine” is given when it really isn’t “fine” at all, this sort of thing seems to come as a bit of a shock. The few times this has happened over the years, I’ve been able to get things smoothed out and going in the right direction, but it’s only because I’ve racked up 20 years experience doing this now.  The best way to avoid a scenario like this all together is to not be shy about feedback from the very beginning of the project. Speak up.

Tips for when you feel like things are not going well and you don’t know what to say:

You see the initial design and in your opinion, it’s awful/you don’t like it/you get a sinking feeling that you just made a horrible mistake. First, take a deep breath and revisit tips #2 and #3 above. Would your target market honestly hate it too? Does it cover any of your goals, have a clear call to action, or have the correct information on the page? How about the usability – the placement of the navigation, buttons, calls to action, and important information? Make a list of anything it does right first, then go through and analyze what it is that really doesn’t work. Maybe it’s the color pallet, a cheesy stock photo, or it’s missing critical information. Whatever it is, be sure to explain it thoroughly.

Once you’ve spent more time with it and evaluated it, don’t hold back. If the designer put in a cheesy stock photo of some generic people who don’t even represent your target audience, say that. If the colors have nothing to do with your brand, say that too. Don’t be rude and remember tip #4 about being vague. Just get straight to the point. Example: Don’t just say, “This design totally sucks!” Say, “The color palette does not match our brand at all, so we need to change that.”

The Wrap-Up

Remember to always keep your audience and the goals for your site in mind when reviewing design concepts. Provide direct, clear feedback with explanations where necessary. If things don’t seem right, speak up right away. Following these tips will help your website design project run smoothly and help that website be more of an effective marketing tool for your business.