Last month, we talked a little bit about some basic questions to ask yourself and prospective candidates when you’re hiring a web designer. Now you’ve got yourself a designer, you’re all (hopefully) excited about collaborating on an excellent project. How do you interact effectively to keep stress to a minimum and ensure the chances for success?
Define your goals.
Before you kick things off – and ideally, this was a topic of discussion during your hiring process – you need to take some time to formulate a strong goal for your website, and communicate that to your designer. In my experience, the thing that most often weakens an end product is a lack of clearly defined goals from the beginning. This is your mantra for the duration of the project and beyond. It can be simple: “I want visitors to sign up for my mailing list.” “I want them to see that we have a new product.” “I want to push our online store and start funneling sales to that.” Good. These are all solid goals that begin to give your website focus and your designer a starting point.
Directly tied to this goal is a clear definition of success. That should be based on an objective metric. You know you want visitors to sign up for your mailing list, but how many new signups would mean success? (Keep it honest and realistic – if you had 5 visitors a day before the project, it’s probably not realistic to expect that your new site will bring in 50,000 visitors a day.) This is vital. If you’re not directly tying your website to a goal (that is, if you’re just getting a website because you want a website) you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Your feedback is key.
You’ll get to a point (ideally multiple points) when your designer will have taken your discussions together and distilled them down into a design, or some stage of a design. As you consider your feedback, keep those goals you’ve defined above in mind. Those goals enable you to judge the success of the project and each piece of it based on some fairly objective standards.
Feedback is a tricky thing, whether you’re in a design project or anywhere else. Use your feedback as an opportunity to have a conversation with your designer about his/her decisions. That is, don’t be afraid to ask questions such as, “why did you pick this color?” or “what led you to place Section A above Section B?” If you can, do your best to separate your personal tastes (such as “I don’t really care for yellow”) from the execution of the project’s goals. (Now, if your personal tastes happen to coincide with the project’s goals, that’s great – but don’t confuse the two. Remember that the ultimate goal is to attract visitors and conversions.)
Also, do your best to keep your feedback descriptive, as opposed to prescriptive. While you should always be honest and collaborative with your him/her, don’t forget that you hired him/her to solve design problems so that you don’t have to. You’ll get your best work from a designer when you present problems for him/her to solve (e.g. “I’m worried users will get lost on this page”) as opposed to deciding on solutions for him/her to execute (remember, that’s the work you’re paying for!).
Noted designer Mike Monteiro of Mule Design (in San Francisco) recently wrote a book called You’re My Favorite Client. In this book, he discusses the entire process of working with a designer, from hiring to launch (and beyond). If you’re looking at hiring a designer for almost any size project, I highly recommend picking it up.