Is Your Designer Ignoring Every Word You Say?

By Jessica Albon

Is Your Designer Ignoring You Completely?
Image by s-s

Apparently, communication between WordPress designers and their clients is really hard on both sides. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve heard from three people who have “absolutely had it” with their web designers and want to start fresh with someone new (me :-)).

If you’re at your wits end with your small business branding designer, before you hire someone new, walk through this article with me. Because, just like divorce, if you don’t resolve the issues you’ve brought into this relationship, just hiring someone new won’t necessarily solve the problem.

1. Figure out what the heck you want.
This is the rant of designers everywhere. Under no circumstances are you allowed to say to me, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Unless you have a budget in the tens of thousands of dollars, this is not a game you will find an experienced designer willing to play.

So, figure it out. Do you want something sleek and sophisticated? Or something homey and friendly.

You get to decide this and whatever you choose is okay (honest). But you do have to choose something. Also, because everyone has a different idea of just what “modern” means, make sure to send your designer actual visual samples–whether you sketch out your ideas, send links to sites you love, or share business cards you’ve kept because they capture what you’re going for.

I often ask my clients to send me photos of their homes to get a feel for how they decorate and the colors that inspire them. I’ve also been known to send links to websites *I* like to get them started. But, the truth is, there are a million different variations on any one concept (think there’s only one “Think again and again–those are all sites different clients selected to express “cheerful.”)

2. Talk about what you want.
After you’ve walked your WordPress designer through all that stuff you like and why you like it (also, explaining what you don’t like is helpful), next you get to talk about it. At least a dozen times.

This stage will feel like you’re repeating yourself endlessly and like your designer may or may not be hearing you. If the designer is good at listening, you’ll feel heard, but they’ll still throw stuff out that makes you really wonder.

Stuff like, “Fresh” or “Tired” or “Old World” or “Classic.” Or “visual motif” ;-). Or “would your couch be more kitty cat or tiger?” (That’s from an actual client email I sent. It totally made sense in context. Honest.)

We designers like our words. And the trouble is these very same words mean very different things to different people. So, don’t worry about repeating yourself, or asking what the designer sees when they use one of those words. Ask for samples. That having been said, don’t get hung up on if the two of you are using two different words (say, “modern” and “contemporary”), try to understand if you’re *seeing* the same thing.

3. Be open minded.
Now, I’m not saying throw away your want list. Because, really, don’t do that. But do prepare to be surprised. Do leave space for your designer to really capture you. Do leave room for creativity.

After all, if all you wanted was your own thoughts on this, you’d just do it yourself, right? So let your designer do her (or his) job and back off a little.

Then, when your brand design agency posts stuff for you to look at, look at all of it. Several times. From different angles or at different times of day (and not after you’ve just had an argument with your mother-in-law). Really consider what your designer has said about why certain choices were made.

Something that sometimes really helps is to take a big step back from your computer monitor and see what something looks like at a distance. It’ll give you a good sense of the proportions and the elements that jump out at you (in both good ways and bad).

Also, form your own conclusions. This is not the time to send out the images to a dozen of your closest friends. In fact, I would prefer you not get anyone’s feedback on the designs, but I know you won’t be able to resist sending it to someone, so here’s the deal. You may show them to ONE person and only one person. More than that and you’ll only wind up confused about whether or not you really want what you think you want. Because someone you know is not going to like your site and that’s going to cause you to question yourself and the site and to feel all sorts of bad and guilty. (Things are different if the site really is being designed by committee, of course. But, if it’s your site, don’t take a popular vote.)

4. Be thorough with your feedback.
Let’s get one thing straight. There are at least eleven million shades of blue we could try. (Okay, so that’s a very slight exaggeration.) That means if you say, “I’d like to use blue, but not the blue you used,” I’m going to ask you what that means. Is the blue I chose too dark? Too light? Too bright? Too green? Not green enough? Too purple?

I’m going to ask you what you’d prefer to see not because I’m putting you in the position of doing my job but because I can’t read your mind. Sure, it would save us both a lot of time if you could close your eyes and I could magically see exactly the color you’re seeing. But honestly, I think technology that would let me do that would be mighty intrusive and I wouldn’t be willing to give up the privacy, so I think I’ll stick with asking.

Sometimes, you’re not sure what’s wrong. Maybe something about the design just seems a little flat and lifeless to you. Or maybe it seems kinda crazy and overwhelming. If you honestly can’t put your finger on it, that’s fine! But I will torture you with questions until I have a better idea of what we might try differently. Because that’s my job. 😉

5. But don’t be nuts with the feedback.
If you love, love, love design A, and don’t really like anything about design B, we don’t really need to talk about design B unless there’s something there that you do want to use. (In other words, if I got A completely, 100% right, and B is all wrong, let’s focus on how much I rock in getting A so perfect, ‘kay? We really don’t gain anything by talking about what’s wrong with B.)

I know it can be really hard to get the communication just right with a designer. You’re probably not all that comfortable providing constructive feedback, you’re worried about hurting my feelings, and you’re not altogether sure what’s right and what’s wrong. Give it your best try, apologize when you get it wrong, and when I knock it out of the park, be super, super effusive with the praise and I promise to be willing to work with you again. (The second project always goes smoother.)

Also, remember that this isn’t my first time at the dance. There really isn’t anything you can say to me that a previous client hasn’t already said. You won’t hurt my feelings. It’s okay to follow my lead, or to let me know that you need more direction from me. If you’re feeling lost, tell me. If you’re feeling like I’ve just posted a bunch of stuff for you to look at without any context, tell me that, too. Sure, I work the way I work because it works best for the majority of my clients, but I’m highly adaptable and my chief aim in working with you is to genuinely delight you while designing a website, ezine or blog that your clients will absolutely go wild for.