How to evaluate design options presented by your web design agency

Presenting designs and getting them approved is a constant part of any web designer's life. Most times the client 'gets' what we are trying to do and approves the design with minor modifications. But there are times when clients have difficulty understanding the design or don't connect with it immediately.

We realized that such clients, although brilliant at their profession, don't possess the tools or the expertise to evaluate a design. They make some elementary mistakes which causes a good design to get rejected or drastically changed.

Here are a few things we would love for our clients to keep in mind when evaluating the design options presented by the agency.

It's important to avoid snap judgments.

It's also important to avoid snap judgments early on. Design can be extremely subjective and people's opinion on the design can change with prolonged exposure to the design. Instead of deciding immediately, spend some time with the submitted designs. Let your mind adjust to them and notice the details.

Ask your web design agency to explain their thinking

I am surprised how few clients actually ask the design agency for their thought process. After a cursory introduction to the design, most client launch into their opinion on the design which is usually a knee jerk reaction.

A question and answer session with the agency about their thinking, why the layout has been designed that way and what the approach is to the entire website.

Sometimes clients are surprised at the thought process designers have put into the design which they did not grasp immediately. E.g. A common example is the correlation between the design elements and the company logo or monogram.

Don't involve too many people in the design approval process

As the saying goes, 'Too many cooks spoil the broth'. This is especially true for design approvals. We have sat in meetings where opinions were solicited from everyone including those completely outside the management or marketing roles. The result was a smorgasbord of feedback which decimated the designs and we ended up with something very ordinary.

We recommend that the design evaluation team be kept to a maximum of 3 people. Just enough to encourage healthy discussion but not so many that the whole issue becomes confused.

Look at the design as a whole as well as its separate elements.

The first thing you look for and is the easiest to judge is how does the design look as a whole. As a client, you need to be at least 60-70% satisfied with how the design overall looks. Don't shoot for 100% otherwise it will go into perfectionist territory and endless loops. 

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water, as the saying goes. Don't get stuck on only one aspect e.g. colours or font. Instead view the design holistically. You might not like any one aspect of the design presented to you, whether its color or font or anything else. But try and look past that and evaluate the design holistically. Does it tick the boxes in other aspects such as navigation, layouting etc.

Look for any parts of the design that tend to overshadow or obstruct the others

A very important part of any design is balance. The individual components of the design need to be also well thought out. No component should overshadow the other and the balance should be maintained in the design. E.g. An overly bright menu might distract from the marquee photo and message. Separation of components should also be observed for any obstruction or hidden aspects. The best layouts are simple and clearly laid out.

Don't ask for more options without giving crystal clear feedback and directions

Sometimes clients reject designs but fail to explain why they rejected them or what is expected from the new designs. This leaves the web design agency clueless and ends up with dozens of unnecessary iterations. I have never seen this approach result in a successful design outcome.

Whenever a client rejects a design we do a thorough analysis of what they liked and did not like in the design so that we are clear what approach to take for the next one.

In conclusion

A little bit of understanding, a little bit of trust in your web design agency can go a long way in getting the website that you can be proud of. Next time an agency sits across from you to present the design, do keep the above ideas in mind and have a pleasant meeting.

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