Many moons ago, in a previous life before I became a web designer I used to work as a hairdresser and quite often when I start a new design project or meet new clients I’m reminded of a very common scenario from that time. At least once a day a client would come in to the salon, sit in my chair and produce a picture from a magazine of how he/she would like their hair to look. If I was lucky then the picture they had selected was of a person with a similar hair type, hair texture, skin tone, face shape, lifestyle and so on.
But 90% of the time this wasn’t the case, so I developed a method of consultation that would allow me to let the client know that we should probably look at a different direction, while still making them feel that they were in control and without causing any offence. It would typically go something like this.
- Look at the picture and describe the hair texture, thickness, colour, length, face shape, skin tone and eye shape etc.
- Client describes the photograph.
- Now describe your texture, thickness, colour, length, face shape, skin tone and eye shape etc.
- Client describes themselves.
- So why do you think this person looks good with that haircut?
- Because the stylist has considered their hair type and face shape and lifestyle and cut the hair accordingly.
- So what you’re saying is if I cut your hair with the same consideration to your own individual needs you’ll look good too!
But how does this relate to way I design websites? It can be very tempting to send a bunch of links to websites you like to your designer as a reference to how you want your site to look but aesthetics are only a small part of a bigger picture. It’s easy to be seduced by aesthetics, by how things look rather than how they work, or why they even exist in the first place. How your website or app ends up looking is a result of a number of factors and this is where proper consultation and research come in.
Consultation is an often-overlooked aspect of the design process (especially by the less experienced) but it is massively important. Through proper consultation with my clients about my design process I can manage expectations, explain budget issues easier and make the process work for us, rather than against us. As a designer I try and remember that for most clients hiring a web designer is an intimidating experience, especially if you’re not so tech savvy, but who is to blame for that? Well surely it’s me? I need to give my clients an insight to how the design process really works and educate them how to truly evaluate the needs of their particular project. This gives them the tools they need to communicate with me effectively from an early stage and make the whole procedure far more enjoyable for everyone. People just need a way of starting a dialogue, and if I, the designer, consult properly with you, we can quite quickly build up a relationship of trust. Once trust is established, feedback becomes something collaborative and enjoyable rather than painful and daunting, and ideas and suggestions from both sides can be exchanged without fear of ridicule.
Designing For Users
I try not to forget that I’m not really designing for you, the client, I’m designing for your customers and users. That can take time to get used to, but if I do my job properly throughout the project then you’ll trust me enough to steer things in a direction you might not have considered but ultimately is best for the people that really matter, your users.