Input Overload: Parsing Out Good vs. Bad Feedback to Avoid “Web Design by Committee”
“Can you move that a quarter of an inch to the left?”
“Needs more cats”
“It’s just not doing it for me”
It’s important to have input from different sources during the web design process, a point which even goes for the most visionary of thinkers who come up with phenomenal ideas. The problem comes when a creative project gets out of hand with all of the hands in the pot, causing the creative minds in your business to become frustrated and ultimately yielding disappointing results.
The beginning of the project may start out well, with the group listening to each other and following the lead of the professional designers. As the web design process escalates and more non-designers get involved, that lead can easily be lost as the requests and criticisms pile on. What started off as a simple and straightforward process doesn’t stay that way and the end, the web design becomes as muddled as the process that created it.
Strategies to keep the web design process from derailing
How can business leaders approach the web design process to prevent this all-too-common derailment? Here are some solid strategies to avoid getting caught in the “design by committee” trap.
Listen to your creatives
You hired these artists for a reason! An important lesson you should learn early on in business is to trust the people you hire. Bring on high quality talent that you believe in, then trust that the products they create will work, even if you can’t see it initially.
That doesn’t mean that executives, sales and customer service people don’t have valuable input to offer, but it does mean that designers deserve respect for being pros in their field. It’s a fascinating quirk of being a designer – not everyone fancies themselves to be a salesperson or a financial wizard, but everyone likes to imagine that they’re a designer.
Manage the size of the design team
The more people there are, the more challenging this whole web design process becomes. One way to do this is not to invite input from anyone who isn’t on the design team, not even for something small. Once that door is open, it becomes a Pandora’s box. Too many individuals involved in the web design process will make it exponentially more difficult for you to figure out what’s good feedback and what’s worthless.
Request this of clients as well. People get excited about design, but it’s important to hold back and wait for the whole thing to be complete before showing it off. Otherwise it’s easy to get unsolicited and unhelpful advice.
Set clear boundaries for input
This is part of best business practices and it should apply to just about anything. Set a tone of civility and respect through your own actions and require that same from everyone who works with your business.
When working with a client this might mean laying out a structured revision process in the contract. Within a business it could mean assigning clear responsibilities to everyone involved or providing a lead designer for each project who has a final say on the design.
This is a major part of being able to delineate good versus bad feedback – good feedback involves detail and action steps. Bad feedback is vague and fueled by emotion. For example, “The background colors bother me” is not helpful. “The background color makes it difficult to read the text” is more specific and helpful.
Changes can’t be made if they aren’t specific. It’s important for the sanity of everyone involved that the web design process maintains a level of mutual respect that encourages actionable, detailed feedback so that designers have something to work with.
Reasons are important
Though there is a certain level of “gut feeling” that goes along with the web design process, it’s essential that there be some data or reasoning behind alterations. Of course we want the final design to be something that a client can feel has their personal stamp on it, however that stamp isn’t the same as throwing a bucket of paint over the whole canvas.
It’s perfectly acceptable to request reasons for changes. “I just think it would look better this way” isn’t helpful. Good reasons might include tips from trusted online journals, functional testing or customer feedback. To that end, it’s also important that the design team have solid reasoning behind their ideas as well.
Create a timeline of involvement
Often the problem isn’t that people are involved, it’s when they get involved. Be willing to kick people out of the web design process when the time is right, with many thanks and excitement for them to see the final product. Bad feedback can be bad simply because it’s offered at the wrong time. Providing structure to your process will help you to know when it’s good and when it isn’t.
Here’s a rough outline of good times to include various parties:
Executives early on, for visioning and direction.
Marketing during the formative web design process, for messaging and targeting.
Sales and customer service when it’s time to test, for validation and refinement.
Developers just before implementation, to ensure feasibility and workability.
Start with an open dialogue
While we often think about design a being related to art, ethereal and above the fray, the truth is that power dynamics become incredibly important quickly within the web design process. Be upfront and honest with everyone who is involved, and ask that they trust the process and the final product. Business is, in many ways, essentially about trust!
Sometimes all it really takes to avoid issues is just to put them out there before there’s a problem. Start the conversation early and don’t be afraid to approach the subject of how the web design process works and who has the power to make final decisions – you’ll thank yourself later.
Designing together can lead to greatness
Though the road is fraught with challenges, designing with a team can lead to the highest quality product. Opening up to the ideas of a group of talented and knowledgeable members is one of the ways that we learn the most and take design to the next level. When everyone steps back and allows the web design process to work, it offers the best of all of the minds.
Rich, functional and beautiful design is within your reach and you don’t need a committee to get there.