10 Tips for ensuring a better site design

How do you ensure you get the best design for your site possible? How do you cultivate the best working relationship with your designer? In short, how do you get your money’s worth?

As part of my ongoing campaign to improve the documentation we use at Headscape, I have produced a factsheet that we are going to start giving to clients. It provides advice about how to best work with a web designer to ensure their site is as good as possible.

Below is the copy of the factsheet. Feel free to reuse it as you see fit. As with the Kickoff Agenda Builder I am releasing it under creative common licensing.

Download the factsheet

Creating an amazing website is a collaboration between client and web designer. We should work together to develop a design that is both visually stunning and effective at meeting business objectives.

For this to happen both parties have their part to play. This document shares ten ways that can improve how you and your designer work together to ensure the best design possible.

Focus on problems not solutions.

If you want to get the most from your designer you need to focus on problems not solutions. For example, if you are worried that the colour choices he has made won’t sit well with your audience, tell him that and why you think it’s the case. Let him work out how to solve the problem rather than telling him to change the site to use a particular colour.

It is about user needs and business objectives.

Don’t get bogged down in the details of the design. It’s the designers job to worry about the details. Instead, ask yourself two questions: how will users respond to this design and will it meet my business objectives?

Always explain why.

When people tell you what they think of the design always ask them why. Why don’t they like the colour? Why do they think the logo should be made bigger? Equally ask yourself the same questions. Often there are underlying reasons for a reaction towards a design. Telling the designer these underlying reasons can enable him to find the most appropriate solution.

Recognise your personal bias.

Design is a very subjective subject. We all have our personal opinion when it comes to design. What you like, your boss may hate. However, at the end of the day it is not about whether either you or your boss likes the design. The question to ask is whether the user will like it.

If in doubt, test.

If you find yourself unsure about the design direction or disagreeing over the way forward, test the design. There are loads of ways you can get feedback from a bigger group of people and none of them need to be time consuming or expensive. Testing the design will give you the confidence that things are heading in the right direction.

Remember nothing is permanent.

It’s important to remember that unlike print design, the web can be changed at any time. Making a design decision doesn’t need to be a life or death choice because if you put something live and users don’t like it then it can easily be changed.

Listen to the research.

Designing a website is not the same as producing a piece of art. There is considerable science and psychology behind the discipline as well as many years of research. Where possible build on best practice and avoid working from hunches or personal preference.

Resist the urge to copy.

There is nothing wrong with looking at your competition or indeed any other website for inspiration. However, blindly following what other people do is often a mistake. What works for one site will not always work for another and we don’t want to simply copy the competition ending up one step behind them.

Context is everything, always present it.

You and your designer will spend hours discussing the right approach for your website and hopefully you will have a firm grasp of why certain decisions have been made. The danger comes when you present work to colleagues who don’t have that background. Make sure that you always fully brief anybody you show the design to so they know why it has turned out the way it has.

Avoid design by committee.

Because design is subjective showing it to too many people can just muddy the decision making process. Instead keep the number of people to a minimum and canvas their opinions individually to avoid design by committee.

Download the factsheet

  • Richard

    Thanks Paul, a lovely set up tips (guidelines). I’ll try these on my students the new academic year. In groups they go through the web development process to create a site and inevitably they get wrapped up in the design and/or the coding. Despite teaching them about IA, about users, usability, accessibility, getting them to do testing, getting them to do competitor analysis and listening to client briefings they still inevitably ignore many of the good points you raise. Perhaps if I give them your pdf as their mantra, we might increase the number of successful projects.

  • Well done. And a great idea to use this up front before all the problems start rearing their heads!

  • Thanks alot Paul, you do a great job motivating the client to actually use this advice (as it will get him better design) and present it in easy bit size chunks. I feel inspired to go educate my client!

  • Very, very good! Thanks for sharing.

  • Nice idea, I should give this to people!

  • Very usable and vital tips in very short way presented! Great, thanks for tips.

  • This is one great posting. Thanks for the share Paul.

  • I can see this list comes from true experience. Need for everyone of these tips will come up if you are dealing with a website project.
    Thanks for summing them up and sharing.

  • That pretty much sums it up. Thanks for this post.

  • A great post – fantastic advice! And by the way, having the factsheet in that Issuu book format was very cool (and useful).

  • Interesting presentation. And thanks for the article!

  • Great article.  And thanks for sharing the information. I find we always get bogged down in the details of a site design.  Hopefully this will be useful to future client projects.

  • Very good article!


  • Anonymous

    Great article, but sometimes it’s not the design that counts.
    What I mean is that there are ugly websites that perform better than their most beautiful counterparts.

    Amy @ Cowboy Millionaire Review

  • We would like to use this fact sheet to educate our clients prior to starting a project. Can we use this fact sheet as it is? Do we need to give you credit at the end of the fact sheet?

    • Anonymous

      Of course. No problem.

  • great fact sheet paul, i like your style; short, to the point, and nothing but value – Louis

  • iagd

    Thank you for this information. Very helpful. I love the font used on your site. Can you share which one it is?

    • I can’t remember the name off the top of my head and don’t have a computer with which to check at the moment. However you should just be able to look in the CSS file or use something like firebug.

      • iagd

         Ok, this font is Museo Sans Rounded 900 and it’s 16 $. Looks really good on titles I think. Well done! Might purchase…

  • Sofia Woods

    The fact sheet is great – it would be even better if it was gender neutral – not all designer’s are ‘he’ and I’m hesitant to forward this link to my even though it’s a good one. Any chance you’ll be amending this?