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How to Be Confident In Approving Your Website’s Visual Design

Updated: November 18th, 2022
Todd Doyle, Co-founder and Creative Director

So here you are, just through the discovery phase of your website. Assuming you’ve defined clear goals of the project, done the proper research, and have a solid game plan to get there, it’s time to start creating. Whether you’ve hired a freelance designer or an agency, eventually there will be that moment when you’re looking at the designs of your new website for the first time. Now, hopefully, that’s not the first thing you’ve seen. You’ve likely seen components, colors, or mood boards, but never the whole design all at once. Do you love it? Does it cut through the noise? What does your gut say? Do others on your team like it?

The real question is … how do you and others involved know, with confidence, if the look and feel of your newly designed website are on the right path? Here are five areas to focus on that could help remove subjectivity from that milestone. 

1. Establish a consensus on art direction and connect it to your research 

Art direction, in this case, can be as simple as writing out the key characteristics of how you want the design to feel from the website audience’s perspective. These keywords, often adjectives, should be the desired response you want from your visitors when they interact with your brand online. And these feelings should directly support the offering and or value proposition (gained from the research) you’re selling in the first place. For example, you might want your audience to be excited about specific features that differentiate your product, or to be inspired by the brand’s promise around social good. This art direction should encompass existing relevant brand work, understanding where key stakeholders want to go, inspirational precedents, and what to avoid. It should also be completed and agreed upon by all decision makers before you start looking at anything. Then, having this information available when reviewing designs becomes a handy scorecard for measuring the effectiveness of the design and removing some of that subjectivity. 

2. Make it relevant to your industry or vertical

Colors, fonts, and other visual design elements without context don’t have many specific inherent meanings in a vacuum. But all have meanings and cues associated with them when connected to an industry or vertical. The color red, for example, sends completely different emotional signals if you’re filling out tax forms online versus ordering a burrito online. It’s a really good idea to research a number of potential competitors in the space, past and present, to get a good understanding of what meanings are already inherent in the market. Then you can make deliberate and purposeful decisions for your end users’ benefit.

3. Understand your target users and identify relatable brands and experiences 

This is a helpful tool you can use when you understand your target demo and what other websites they like and choose to visit. With this information in hand, you can mimic similar design solutions. Assuming your team created personas or archetypes, you should be able to identify relationships between your website and other products or services your intended users might engage with. It is helpful for visual designers to be able to relate the digital brand’s vibe to something aspirational that’s not a direct competitor. It’s also more helpful and intentional than everyone using Apple’s website as the universal measuring stick. 

4. Support the design requirements 

Design requirements should have been created during the definition phase of the project. In short, they are a list of requirements that basically say: If we can do these things, we should be in a good place to accomplish our bigger goals (linked to KPIs) for this project. A good chunk of the solutions to meet those requirements might have been tackled as part of the UX side of the design work. That said, the visual layer can make a huge difference in how successful those design solutions are. Way too often poor graphic design (and execution) can ruin a sound UX solution. Conversely, great design can always help a poorly prescribed UX decision. Everything from the design pattern chosen to the color of the buttons to the intended use of white space should be in service of the goals of the project, not just to look cool. When your designer or agency is presenting design work to you and your team, they should be connecting those dots for you.

5. Add the right amount of uniqueness and personality 

Is your brand’s personality represented correctly in the designs? While some of this is covered in the area of art direction, it’s worth its own category, especially when content creation is part of the scope of a project. Does the product, service, or offering have a unique POV that’s expressed visually in the design? Are the voice and tone correct? Do the photos and other assets look like they are from the same source, appropriately treated, and of consistently high quality? Are the stock photos working, or do they look like stock photos? How about microcopy, labels, headlines, and CTAs? Remember that copy is very visual and can affect the look and feel of a page mock-up greatly. We recommend designing with realistic content from the start and skipping the placeholder text or lorem ipsum copy whenever possible so you can quickly gauge the effectiveness of it all coming together. Aside from your brand’s logo at the top of the website and the right use of colors and fonts throughout, every single item on the page is an opportunity for your users to have a memorable connection with your brand. Just make sure it’s not getting in the way. 

Assuming the designers working on your project already have strong graphic design experience to begin with, and you cover these areas in the design process, you’ll be able to:

I hope you have found this helpful. At ExpandTheRoom we’ve been designing websites and digital products for 20 years now and although the tools, software, and technology continue to (rapidly) change, the challenges and patterns in the design process identified here remain the same. We love helping clients through this important work, so let us know if we can help you out on your next project.

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