I read this terrific article yesterday on How To (and not to) Work With A Designer. The article is chock-full of good advice that really hit home for me based on my experience working on web design projects.
I would like to share a few of the suggestions that should be top of mind for lawyers.
As Will points out in his article,
The way to inspire a designer is to give them the message and feeling you want to convey, and the freedom to convey it in a fresh, new way.
In other words, being a "good client" in the design process is about communicating the marketing message and feeling you want the design to communicate, not telling the designer the specific layout and design to create. Remember, you are hiring a designer because you are not one yourself. It's important you put trust in their ability to come up with a creative approach that communicates your message and appeals to your audience. You aren't hiring them so that you can tell your designer how to do design.
Don’t ask for a site like someone else’s but in a different color. Be open to new, unexpected ideas. Don’t be afraid of something different. Let new ideas sink in.
This one is especially relevant in the legal arena. In my experience, lawyers tend to want to "follow the marketing" pack. Many tend to choose one or two of their competitor sites they like and ask for the same site in green. A better approach is to communicate the emotional components of the site, the feelings you want the site to evoke for your audience, to the designer so that they have the freedom to take you in a direction you may not have considered. Often times you can wind up with a better, unexpected result.
...rather than how you want it to look. Don’t ask for a color, shape, or style--ask for meaning or emotion.
Design makes you feel, so tell your designer how it makes you feel. Instead of saying, “I like yellow,” get to the root of it and say “I want a site that feels warm,” or “I want something upbeat and friendly.”
I touched on this point already, but it's worth mentioning again. It's much more effective to tell a designer the message or feeling you are trying to communicate rather than telling them to change the border to brown and move the photo 15 pixels to the left. This comes up often in my experience. An attorney client takes over the design process and starts dictating design changes rather than deferring to the professional they hired. It's vital you have trust in the expertise of the design professional.
...not yourself, your friends or your colleagues. Be specific so your designer knows who your customers are and what they want. It’s more important that they like your site than that you like it. Always remember, “What’s in it for them.”
This is a critical point that I would argue is one of the most important to keep in mind. As I discussed in a recent post I wrote, Quit Marketing To Yourself (Unless You Are Your Audience), each decision you make regarding your marketing should be assessed from the viewpoint of how it will resonate with the audience your service is for. Unless you are a representative sample of your typical client, stop trying to create a website design around what appeals to you.
No good design was ever created by a consensus. The more people who have a voice in the process, the more watered down the results will be. Your friends and coworkers will often give you conflicting advice and people often have ulterior motives when they give you comments (they may be jealous or threatened if you get something that’s too good, or they may just be ignorant). You can show it to a few trusted people and get their comments, but there can only be one person making decisions.
I've seen many law firm web design projects go down the tubes for this very reason. Someone needs to be the quarterback of the team. Here is a good article to read further expanding on this point, Design By Committee Will Ruin Your Website.
Don’t just say, “I don’t like brown.” That says nothing of real value. If you say “I’m concerned that the color looks sickly and we need something that conveys growth,” then you are giving the designer useful information, because you’re talking about content rather than telling them how to design.
Communication is key so that your design concepts can be improved upon and get closer to the messaging and website you are striving for. Simply saying something "sucks" or you "don't like it" doesn't help a designer better understand the question of "Why?". Communicate what about you don't like. What feelings or impressions is the current iteration making on you that you want to change?
Keeping these points in mind during the design process can help produce a much more effective end result.
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