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How to Give Constructive Design Feedback Past the Logo
Or: How to Help Your Design Agency Create Better Comps (and Make Your CEO Happy)
Out of all of the phases of a website development project, the one that’s probably the most fun, and most prone to all-around-angst, is the design phase. You know — the part where you finally get to see what your website is going to look like.
Now, the preceding phases of discovery and definition are at least as important, and arguably more so, as the creative phase. After all, this is where you do the hard, foundational work of identifying the site’s goals, audiences and purpose, and creating a content strategy and information architecture. But all that work can seem a little abstract until you see a real, in-living-color design (a “comp” in industry jargon).
Once you see the comp, it feels like your site is coming to life. Of course, it’s rare (maybe even unheard of) that an initial comp becomes the final, launched design. A good agency will expect — and even welcome — constructive feedback. The operative word here is constructive. After all, everyone’s working toward the same goal, and if the agency’s job is to design a superior website, your job is to provide thoughtful, helpful feedback.
So here are Innate’s tips on how to give constructive design feedback (beyond the logo) to a creative agency.
Resist the urge to quarterback. You may think your agency resists making revisions because it’s a matter of pride or defensiveness. But remember: you hired your design agency based on their expertise and experience. They’ve brought all of this to bear on the work they created for you. The design you see went through many iterations before the final version was presented for your review. It’s their job to find a design solution for any goal or issue.
“It works much better to talk about issues you want to solve than to suggest very specific solutions,” says Innate Principal Matthew Snyder.
- Less helpful: “Make the logo bigger.”
- More helpful: “Since our merger last year, one of our goals is to increase our customers’ awareness of our new corporate identity. We’re concerned that the logo size and placement here doesn’t do that.”
Your agency has tried to understand your organization and its industry in creating a design solution, but you’ll always have the advantage of knowing it better. Be specific as possible in your comments: the more details you can give, the better. Frame your concerns in relation to your end user.
“Don’t be afraid to give honest feedback. While we take pride in our work, we don’t take constructive criticism personally,” says Jeff Walter, Innate’s former art director.
- Less helpful: “That font is too small.”
- More helpful: “We know that 50% of our members are over 65 and we are concerned that they won’t be able to read that text. Does this size conform to current best practices for web font readability? Can we increase it?”
- Less helpful: “Don’t use orange.”
- More helpful: “Our Vice President of Marketing hates orange and he has final approval on the design. Can we use it less or avoid it altogether?”
Filter and condense.
For a design agency, the ideal review process consists of a small group of client representatives who have been given the authority to make decisions about the design process and are led by point person who can champion the group’s decision to upper-level management for approval.
But agencies also recognize that this ideal is fairly rare. In most cases, input is gathered from multiple departments and representatives across the organization, in addition to veto power comments from one or more managers.
The best solution is to filter and condense. Make sure one person from the organization has the responsibility to deliver comps feedback. She should collect all feedback and evaluate it. Condense repeated comments into a single statement, remove statements that don’t conform to the project’s stated goals and resolve contradicting statements.
Again, the goal is to provide clear, concise information for your agency to use in developing a revised design solution.
- Less helpful: A 6-page feedback document listing every single comment made by anyone who looked at the comps, requiring the agency to make judgments about which feedback is more important and spend time communicating with the client to clarify.
- More helpful: A 1- or 2-page feedback document succinctly summarizing unique types of comments, questions or concerns and listing them in order of priority.
And One More Tip
Ask your users. We strongly recommend that you plan — and budget — for a round of user review in the design phase. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive; you can get valuable feedback in a single morning from 3 to 5 people.
But as we often remind our clients (and ourselves), you are not your user. There may be an issue with the design that you would never realize, and they may disprove something you think is a concern, but you won’t know until you ask. The most important reaction to a website design is by the people who are going to visit and use that website.
In the end, it’s not your agency’s goal to avoid making comps revisions — it’s their goal to make the best revisions, in usability and aesthetics.
[Photo credit: Lauren Michell Rabaino, Flickr Creative Commons]