Friday, February 15, 2008

How to: Giving design direction for a new website

When you work with a designer to create a new website, inevitably, among the first questions he or she will ask you is What sites do you like?. Seems like an innocuous question, right? After all, you surf web like everyone else, how hard can be it be to pick a few of the sites you come across as ones that you like.

If you're like me, it's really hard. When I actually think about sites that I visit on a daily basis, none of them seem like much use for design inspiration -, Google and CNN just don't provide much in the way of design help for a new corporate web site or product.

So, here's what I've learned to do:

  1. Open up a blank e-mail message, ready to be sent to the designer
  2. Open up a new web browser and point it to If that web site isn't up, then head over to Google and search for CSS galleries and pick another site.
  3. Now, click on the first thumbnail shown in the gallery. This will take you to the website so you can get a closer look. Copy the URL into the mail message you've started. Go ahead and note in the e-mail what you like or don't like about the site. If you're completely non-phased by the site, simply note that it didn't do anything for you. Some ways you might want look at the site include:
    • Colors - Love a particular shade of blue? Is it too dark?
    • Use of images - Are images used in a way that you like? Could they be bigger? Smaller?
    • Textures / patterns - Do you notice any textures or patterns you like? Find annoying?
    • Theme - Is the site too retro? Too corporatey? Do you love the down home look?
    • Layout - do you like how information is organized? Is it a mess?
    • First impressions - is there just something about the site you like? Hate?
    Negative comments are just as useful as positive ones, so regardless of what catches your eye, note it.
  4. Repeat. Hit the back button in your browser to go back to CSS Galleries and choose another thumbnail. When you've done the first page, click on the "Next page" link in the upper right hand corner. There's currently 365 pages on the site, so there are plenty of pages to look through.
  5. When you've noticed that your comments are starting to get repetitious, then it may be time to stop. Are you seeing a trend in the positive comments? Great - then you probably know what colors, layouts, etc. you like.
  6. Look over the sites that worked for you - which of them really capture that elusive I like this quality? You'll want to shoot for around 5 of these sites. Put them at the top of the e-mail, along with what you like about each of them. You'll want to summarize what you like in 2 - 4 sentences. Finally, leave the complete list of your positive and negative comments in the e-mail, though put it at the bottom of the message. Put a short introductory sentence before those comments that reads something like "Below is a list of websites I checked out, my comments might be useful in giving you a better idea of what I like and don't like in a design."
  7. Send the e-mail to your designer
  8. Be prepared for followup questions and explinations

Be warned - this process does take some time. But it's time well spent. Good luck on the new site!

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