Getting design approval

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Web Show we are joined by Leigh Howells to discuss how to get design approval.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This season of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Template Monster and Lynda. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld on tour, from that echo-iest Eccles place ever. Well we are up North.

Marcus: Yes, where they have Eccles cakes. What’s an Eccles cake?

Leigh: I believe it is something that has raisins in it? I am guessing. Like a teacake?

Paul: You have no idea do you?

Leigh: With sugar on it?

Paul: Marcus, just shoved the mic under your nose and you felt obliged to say something.

Leigh: Well if it’s not that, it should be as it’s something I need right now.

Paul: This is going to be the most unprofessional podcast ever. Because we are sitting in a Halls of Residence in the echo-iest kitchen known to man in Ormskirk which I don’t think is a real place.

Marcus: Ormskirk? It’s up near Preston and Liverpool. And it’s also a very nice University. Very chilled University. Very nice accommodation that we are staying in…

Paul: …except for their kitchen which is very echo-ey.

Marcus: The echo-iness is a bit annoying.

Leigh: [unintelligible]

Paul: You can’t speak without the mic! We’ve only got two mics.

Leigh: I thought I could just raise my voice and it would carry. But it’s more echo-ey.

Paul: You need to grab Marcus’s arm and pull the mic towards you.

Leigh: Look at the beautiful vista of older buildings in front of us…

Paul: It’s actually a really nice campus.

Leigh: …contrasting with the modern nature of the new kitchen. It’s lime green. Very nice.

Marcus: Who’s the designer in the room?

Paul: So we’re at IWMW which is the Institutional Web Managers Workshop which sounds like the dullest conference known to man.

Marcus: But it’s just about drinking really, lets be honest.

Paul: They do drink a lot.

Marcus: It’s just like, ‘Yeah we will listen to all your talks and things… when can we go drinking?’ I need to be reasonable about it tonight, but tomorrow night…. Oh but then I have to drive home a long way.

Paul: Well I am speaking at 9.45am tomorrow morning, so I am not drinking a lot. But anyway, it’s a good conference. I actually, there were two really interesting talks we heard this morning. One was about Agile content, which I thought was a very interesting subject.

Marcus: Yes, because it was the guys at Bath University, who I think we’ve probably spoken about in the past about how they are doing things based on the Government Digital Service model which we’ve been pushing to the people we have been working with, on different Digital Strategy projects with. I think everyone thinks of Agile approaches as what Developers do and making Designers go along with that way of working. But this was a very content focused talk which I found very interesting indeed.

Paul: The one part of it I really liked which he kind of skipped over a little bit was pair writing. I liked that idea. Because pair writing or paired coding is a Developer thing, but applying it to the writing process is good.

Marcus: Yes, he didn’t actually say what that was, but I think what he meant was that it was your content producer i.e. the person who comes up with the words, working together with an editor who’s going ‘No that’s rubbish, you need to get rid of that sentence, blah, blah, blah’.

Leigh: That’s what you do when you edit one of Paul’s documents though isn’t it?

Marcus: Yes, but not together, not at the same time.

Leigh: Enter google docs where you can share and see what you are doing at the same time.

Paul: I don’t know how I would feel about sitting down and writing something together at the same time. Because that hadn’t registered with me, but that’s what he’s talking about.

Marcus: I think that’s what he meant.

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: And it’s like ‘Hmm’. But then, Leigh and I were bemoaning in the car on the way up today ‘We don’t like this Agile thing, we are way too old for it’. Where you have to work in front of people and oh, you know.

And of course that’s not absolutely true, but there is a grain of truth in it in the fact that you do have to step up to the plate all the time. You can’t just go and amble off and have a cup of tea and think about it, which is actually important.

Paul: It is important. I was reading an article recently about the importance of slacking. Which I think is a very important subject, slacking off. And it is, because you do need to give your mind, subconscious time to work on problems. And sometimes that’s not the case with Agile.

Leigh: ‘I am going to walk across the field this morning and …’

Paul: Because you are doing a series of Agile sprints at the moment with VSO International aren’t you?

Leigh: That’s right yes.

Paul: And it’s pressurised working in that way?

Leigh: It is, sprinting…. Yeah it’s just…. Oh!

[Lights turn off]

Marcus: Lights are all turning off on us, we’re not moving enough.

Leigh: Erm yes, Agile just means work hard. And you have a morning meeting.

Paul: But I think there is a degree where as an outside agency going in and working Agile with somebody, because you are exposing all of your work and your processes you feel under scrutiny.

Leigh: Well yes, you don’t disappear off into your magical process and then emerge with something to present. Every step of the way is visible. Which is good, because you can stop going in the wrong direction, but not so good if you realise that you haven’t gone in the right direction yet and you are about to change it and you are already getting comments… and then you have to defend the thing that you knew was wrong because you did it yourself. Because when we work ourselves we do it in an Agile way, we try something, we see if it works and we might change it the next day. But now you are scrutinised at every step of the way. You’ve got to respond to feedback.

Paul: And it’s not just the scrutiny in terms of your work, but in terms of the way you work. Because I don’t know about you, but truth be told, and I like working Agile, it works for my mindset and stuff, but you do think when you are sitting and working for a client, at this point I’ve run out of steam and I’d just stop, if it was just me I would stop right now, and go and watch a bit of TV and come back this evening.

Marcus: But you can’t do that. That was the subject of the conversation. It’s relentless. So maybe we should plan better and we should have, well Ed and I are going up to National Park next week and the start of the project is going to be kind of Agile. And this is where the discussion went, I am going to try and do all the prep work on Day 1 and then get as many of the stakeholders in on Day 1 as we possibly can and get them to make decisions, do exercises, all that kind of thing. And then basically say to the main client, for the next 2 days, can you just be on call when we need you. We will be working and we will need you to come in and talk to us, we might need a couple of hours here and there, but then to go away.

Paul: Yes, it’s very difficult. I don’t think you can say it’s always the right way to do it. Nothing is black and white is it? But it is difficult as an Agency to strike the right balance in an Agile project. Because you want to be embedded in their team. It also depends on how much of a team they have got in place. If they have a relatively mature team and they just need an extra pair of hands then fine, you want to be on the ground with them working and it makes a lot of sense. But actually if you are talking about a product owner and that may be it or a content person then perhaps you might need to be a bit more flexible about things.

Leigh: Yes, we were talking about this in the car, you need to have a some kind of skills audit to start with so you know what people can do, what their capabilities are, because unless you know that, especially if you are trying to plan it and plan peoples tasks it just makes it really hard. You need some time before you even start Agile to work out the team and get to know each other.

Paul: Do you know, that’s really interesting. I’ve started writing in skills audits into my processes as well.

Leigh: Really? I thought I just invented that. Is that a thing? Or is it becoming a thing?

Paul: No, it’s a thing now. We just decided it.

Marcus: It came out of the work we were doing for MSF.

Paul: Yes, that’s where it came for me!

Leigh: Ahh.

Paul: I suggested it!

Marcus: Yes, because I did a million interviews and one of those people said to me ‘What we should be doing is doing a skills audit and creating a matrix of all the skills we’ve got’.

Paul: I like how I just took credit for that.

Marcus: You can’t get anything past me.

Paul: No, you are entirely right. It was one of the people you interviewed, wasn’t it? And it was a really good tool.

Before we move onto what we are going to talk about today which is getting design approval, we had a follow up question.

Marcus: Did we?

Paul: Yes.

Marcus: Oh blimey. We have a follower.

Paul: A real human being apparently.

Marcus: I am scared now.

Paul: It’s from Nick and it’s one of those questions as well where it’s pulling us up on what we were saying. ‘You said…’ it’s one of those.

Marcus: And it must have been you, not me.

Paul: No, it was you actually.

Marcus: Oh no.

Paul: So the pressure’s on you because it’s all about your area. So he’s saying ‘We’re in agreement that working for free is bad’ Tick.

Marcus: Yesssss…..

Paul: In most situations. But you can feel we are being manouvered into a trap!

‘I am going to throw a series of things in your face and then ask you a complicated question here. But you also said that presenting some kind of creative work is an inevitable part of the pitch process.’

Marcus: Can be.

Paul: Yeah, so – tick.

‘And that sometimes that you can be there to make up the numbers’ – Tick. ‘So there is a scenario whereby you go along, you present all of these creative ideas and thoughts you have had when you are just making up the numbers and that person goes away and takes all your creative thinking and gives it to the other person that they were always going to use in the first place’.

Marcus: Yes,

Paul: What do you do about that?

Marcus: We did say this on this particular show, about proposals or whatever, but you try very, very hard to not to respond to proposals where you think you are making up the numbers.

The guest and I on that episode didn’t see eye to eye on a few things and he’s very black and white about stuff.

Paul: And you are very grey these days.

Marcus: Which is true and I’ve got lots of it.


Marcus: Oh you’ve thrown me off. I basically said there are some times you will weigh up the odds and you think ‘Well actually I am going to go for this one’. And you might do a bit of creative as part of that—and I when I say creative I don’t mean ‘let’s do three homepage designs’ but the kind of creative thinking I want to bring to the table—just to show that you understand the brief. And there’s every chance you are not going to win that and there is every chance that your ideas will go on the table at the kick off meeting when someone else is doing the project. Tough, basically.

Leigh: That wouldn’t be the ideas that change the whole of the project and solve all their problems.

Marcus: Don’t do too much to be honest. Do enough to show you know what you are talking about and that you understand the brief. That’s what I am talking about. Not doing the entire project.

Paul: And also to be honest, until you’ve done the discovery phase and all that kind of stuff you’re not going to come up with anything that will change the project entirely. It’s going to be nice little add-ons. And we’ve been on the receiving end of that as well, mind. There have been occasions where a client turned round and said ‘Hey these other people, we’ve gone with you but these other people came out with quite a nice idea’. That’s an interesting one. I felt quite a bit uncomfortable doing that really. But then if the client wants it, what do you do?

Marcus: We would have done it anyway Paul. We would have had the idea anyway.

Paul: Oh I was just going to say well Headscape has got no integrity to it. I can say that now as someone that isn’t in Headscape anymore.


Marcus: And who only does charity work?

Paul: I only do Not-for-Profit. That’s slightly broader.

Marcus: Paul doesn’t work for free now, he always charges. I think that’s what he said.

Paul: If it’s a very cool charity that I am passionate about then I might do it for free. But my exact words are that I have a lower rate for charities, a normal rate for Not-for-Profits like Higher Education, local Government, people like that who contribute to society…

Leigh: Look he’s advertising now, free marketing.

Paul: Shut up! Marcus nicely transitioned for me and then you go and ruin it! I am not going to say anymore, I am sulking.

Marcus: You’ve got your ‘Rip-them-off’ rate as well don’t you?


Paul: I have for the commercial clients that want to work for me, I have what I think I called the ‘I am going to sting you’ rate where the extra between what the normal rate and the higher rate, I am going to give away to charity. Because I am a nice person, Marcus.

Marcus: Yes Paul. You are. You are such a nice person.

Paul: I am also going to give away ten percent of our retained profit and I think it would be great if Headscape does that as well.

Marcus: I’d think about that.

Paul: I’d like to persuade some other companies to do that as well because it’s a good idea. It’s tax deductible.

Marcus: That’s true actually, I mean if you can balance it all so that the money that you would have paid on tax you can give to a charity of your choice…

Paul: Better than paying it to the tax man.

Marcus: But then my socialist leanings say I shouldn’t be choosing, the government should be doing that as I voted them in. You see what I am saying? We do stuff for charity, we do gala dinners to get millions of dollars – that’s a very right wing way. Whereas a more left wing way of leaning is that everyone pays in the pot.

Paul: That is a very good point, but I am still going to do it anyway. And I am going to make you feel bad if you are not doing it. I will check next week to see whether you have done it or not.

Discussing design approval

Paul: Talking of capitalist leanings, lets talk about one of our sponsors for this show. So we’ve got TemplateMonster who have been a long term supporter now. They’ve really been behind the show for ages. They provide many of the questions that we cover; they also help with the cost of the Transcript. We’re going to do it by numbers this week.

46,000 templates. Over 1,000,000 people have purchased a template from TemplateMonster. That’s quite a mind blowing fact. 25,000 affiliates, so you can actually make money from TemplateMonster by selling other people’s templates not even by creating your own templates. They don’t just provide templates, they also provide instillation, hosting, customisation, search engine optimisation and copy writing. I had no idea. They provide templates for Drupal, Magento, WordPress, PrestaShop, Joomla, WooCommerce and many more. I’ve heard of WooCommerce because it’s such a ridiculous name. You can find out more about them and check out their templates by going to so that I can make some money. Thank you very much.

Marcus: My foot has gone to sleep.

Leigh: I’m having some kind of migraine, I don’t know why.

Paul: Oh for crying out loud.

Leigh: I think it’s my new Mac.

Marcus: Have you got the whirlies?

Leigh: Yes, my new Mac – the screen is too small.

Paul: Well you can change that.

Leigh: I know I can. But I have only just realised I am having an effect from it. It’s just the lime green in this kitchen.

[Transcriber edit: Sure it’s not your hangover?]

Paul: And also you are looking at me with bright lights behind me. It’s that constant halo that sits behind me that’s giving you a headache.

Marcus: If it gets worse you can go to your room and shut the curtains.

Paul: Can I check – are both of you able to continue with the podcast?


Marcus: My foot has gone to sleep but I can manage with that.

Paul: You can manage? I am the only one that’s vaguely healthy.

Leigh: I’ll just close my eyes.

Marcus: Well I’ve been sat with it under my chair like that.

Paul: This has turned into some kind of grumpy old man podcast…

Leigh: …slightly ill old man.

Paul: I want a new co-host that’s under 30. Preferably blond and female too.

Leigh: Who know what they are talking about?

Paul: Well, in the course of equality I think a female younger host would make a lot of sense.

Leigh: Age and gender, and hair.

Marcus: I think we should dig his hole even deeper for him, don’t you?

Leigh: Go on then.

Marcus: You basically said you want to have a young female blond host.

Paul: Well not blond necessarily.

Marcus: You just said blonde.

Leigh: You wait ‘til this gets out on Twitter Paul, you wait.

Paul: I was recently. I am a bit bitter and twisted see, but the great thing is, he’s dug the hole and now he’s got me going on the subject right.

You know we are at a higher education institution conference right now. Another one I was really keen to speak at, and that I’ve spoken at before in America called EdUI is a really good conference and I was passed over…

Leigh: Surely not!

Paul: …for two other women speakers and I think it’s sexism.

Marcus: I am saying nothing. You carry on digging, mate.

Paul: The fact that it’s Abby – do you remember Abby who we interviewed on the show and Denise Johnson is beside the point. They are both really clever people. But I’m putting it down to sexism. That’s all it can be.


No, they are very clever unfortunately. And they are really good speakers as well, it shoudlnt be allowed.

So shall we talk about the subject for today?

Marcus: I think it would be a good idea, Paul.

Paul: I think everyone understands. It’s like when people get to a certain age. You know how your grandparents were always racist?

Marcus: So we’re old enough to be sexist? Is that your point?

Paul: I’ve now reached a point where nobody takes a blind bit of notice of what I say. I can be racist, I can be sexist and all they say is ‘Oh it’s only Paul’.

Marcus: ‘It’s just his age, bless him’.

Leigh: Have you subscribed to the Daily Mail now, do you have it delivered every morning?

Paul: Do you know I had this really embarrassing incident, talking of the Daily Mail. We will get onto the discussion part of this podcast. But I followed a link that someone shared on Facebook that went through to the Daily Mail website.

Marcus: It’s quite fun actually, it’s good fun to read. It makes me laugh.

Paul: Yes, they were taking the piss out of the Daily Mail. But I focused on not what was being written but the fact that I was viewing it on a mobile device and you couldn’t see the story. There were so many banners, and headlines and crap all around it that you honestly couldn’t read the story. So I took a screenshot and shared that on Twitter going ‘You can’t read the story, this is a shit user experience’ and now everyone thinks I read the Daily Mail. I am now a pariah.

Leigh: Was the side bar of shame come to the top of the page, was that what happened? Not the one with all the stories that you are interested in, not that I read them…

Marcus: What I’ve always got about the Daily Mail website and I think all other kind of newspaper sites are very similar is that they are always so kind of righteously indignant over things and all the ads down the side are this model with her bra off.

Leigh: The side bar of shame, yeah.

Marcus: And it’s ‘Hang on a minute…’ You’re trying to claim the moral high ground and then then try to use sex to sell everything?

Paul: That’s the way the world works Marcus.

Marcus: It is?

Paul: It is, I am very sorry to break it to you.

Ok, let’s get onto the discussion today, which is supposed to be about getting design approval. I say it’s supposed to be because it seems to have taken us a long time to get there, as normal.

Marcus: Why are we talking about design approval in a series about running your business?

Paul: because it’s one of the biggest unknown expenses in a business. If you are a design agency, you think about the people that end up doing multiple versions because a client asked for it or people that go through endless iterations. Iterations are a killer to your profitability. If you get trapped in doing iterations… because they are unpredictable. Even with three variations, if you always do that for clients at least you know how long that will take and then budget it into the project. While iterations are a complete unknown. So getting design approval is really important, so naah!

Marcus: I knew that anyway.

Paul: You were just trying to make the show more interesting.

Marcus: Exactly.

Paul: Ok. So first question. Marcus, I think you should be asking the questions, because you obviously have nothing to contribute in terms of value to the show.

Marcus: I’ve got lots to cont…to cont…to bring along.

Paul: ‘How do you deal with the same obvious pushbacks such as ‘make your logo bigger’ or ‘I don’t like the colour’. So otherwise these kind of predictable things that come up again and again. How do you deal with that kind of stuff.

Leigh: Well first of all we have a big sigh.


Leigh: ‘Here we go again’. And because you’ve answered this so many times you are ready to deal with it obviously.

Marcus: And the honest truth is, quite a lot of the time you pick your battles and you will go back and say ‘ok we can go with you on that, but we don’t agree with you on this’. If you just go back and go ‘bam, bam, bam, bam, we don’t think you should be doing this, we think you should be doing x and y’ that’s not a good way to be managing the relationship with your client.

Paul: I tell you how I get round that. I sometimes will predict or I will pre-empt those kinds of questions.

Marcus: So you make the logo like really, really small to enable it to be bigger?

Paul: No more to the point when I present the design I will talk about ‘OK you might be concerned about the size of the logo, or you might not feel this is the right colour, but this is why we took this approach’. Once people have said ‘I don’t like the colour’ they’ve put their foot down and anything you say then is just going to sound as though you are arguing back at them. But worse than that, even if they agree with you then it’s hard for them to back down because they’ve set their position and what they thing. Whereas if you pre-empt it before they say it, it gives them the freedom not to bring it up. And also makes it quite hard for them to bring it up as well because they don’t want to be predictable and say the thing you’ve just said.

Leigh: Yes, they want to come up with something new and original.

Paul: Yeah, they want to criticise you in some original way. Because there is a degree about that. Criticise is a very derogatory terms, but there is a degree that people want to stamp their personality…

Leigh: They want to be part of the process.

Paul: Yeah, they want to be part of the process.

Marcus: It’s kind of like ‘I know what I am talking about if I have commented on it’. Occasionally we’ll do work and people will say ‘Yep. On you go’.

Leigh: Yes, when I have done video presentations, or presentations over the phone or however else, you come up with things that as you say, you’ve raised them and addressed them straight away.

Paul: Because also, you’ve demonstrated very clearly that you’ve thought this through.

Leigh: You’ve realised what you’ve done and explain why.

Paul: While if you wait for them to raise the issue and then you say it, it sounds like you are bullshitting to justify what you have done.

Leigh: Yes.

Paul: Damn, we’re good at this.

Leigh: But I have done the thing you’ve just mentioned Marcus where I’ve created an element as a distraction that I know will get attention just to demonstrate a point.

Paul: I really don’t approve of you putting a giant penis on your site. That’s got to stop Leigh, I am sorry.

Marcus: What it is, to put that in a less cynical way is…

Leigh: I couldn’t think of an example.

Marcus: …well we’ve got some really good ones recently. It’s basically pushing the boundaries. Do stuff where you think ‘Oh wouldn’t it be brilliant if we got this through’ but it’s not going to. Circular navigation…

Leigh: Putting in a radical navigation system you know that’s going to take all of the discussions so other things like the layout which are pretty important too, might not get as much of the attention. So the talking is all about one thing, not the other.

Paul: And that whole thing about pushing the boundaries I think is good, because you know you are going to be pulled back. And I do think a lot—especially internal web designers—self-censor themselves. Because they know the client so intimately, the other people in the organisation they know they won’t get this past sometimes so they won’t even try. And it happens that so-and-so knocks down even what they have given them, even further.

Leigh: It gets more and more compromised.

Paul: Shoot for the stars, kids! Or something like that.

Right. ‘When should you show the client your design?’

Marcus: You should start discussing with them when you first meet.

Paul: Yep. When should you show the client the design?

Marcus: What is the design? That’s the bigger question.

Paul: That’s good. Yes, you should be showing them sketches, you should be showing them Y frames, prototypes, comps, mood boards, the whole lot.

Leigh: I think you are kind of easing them into the idea of what design is. We always thought the big reveal was rather wrong, but now it’s becoming such a gradual process…

Paul: It’s like putting a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put them in and slowly turn up the heat, you can fry the client.


Marcus: What a delightful analogy.

Leigh: It kind of works.

Paul: Actually you would boil the client wouldn’t you, not fry them.

Look, I tell you, I can give this a direct answer. ‘When should you show the client the design?’ After you’ve shown it to the developer, or after you’ve shown it to the content people or your internal team.

Leigh: Well hopefully the content people would have given you content to start with to inform the design and as you should have conferred with the developer whilst you were coming up with anything in the first place…

Paul: I was meeting with one of the people I coach, a design agency in Sheffield. And one of the things that they suffer from is that the developer gets handed the design after it’s been signed off by the client and then they go ‘Shit. Can’t build this. Not within the budget and timescales’.

Leigh: That was mentioned in the talk wasn’t it.

Paul: Oh was it?

Leigh: Yeah she said they had a few different agencies, one for the design, one for the build and she basically said never do that.

Paul: Yes. But even with one agency that can be a problem. Let alone over separate agencies. Crickey.

Leigh: This comes back to your mantra many years ago ‘Just design it!’

Paul: I said that in the late ‘90s. Can I not move on from that?

Leigh: I still think about it. ‘Yeah, Paul is wrong’.

Paul: Times change.

Marcus: Are you enjoying having Leigh on the show?

Paul: I love Leigh deeply. It’s nice to see him.

Marcus: It’s great. It’s boys on tour. We’re away! Well not really away, his family are just down the road.

Paul: This is the rock and roll lifestyle. We’re doing a grand tour of the North.

Leigh: I want the bus to roll up outside the window.

Paul: The motorhome?

Leigh: And take you away.

Paul: Have you not seen it? You’ve got to see the new one before you go. When we are drunk tonight, you’ve got to come and see the Motorhome.

Leigh: And sleep on your floor?

Marcus: Both of us.


Leigh: My migraines gone anyway.

Paul: That’s good. Shall we do the next question?

‘How do you deal with clients that start micro-managing design?’ And punching them is not a valid answer.

Marcus: That’s really hard. You’ve got to encourage them not to do that really early. Pre-empt it because it’s almost impossible to stop it once it’s started.

Paul: But that’s where I go back to my solutions/problems approach which I am sure I have bored you with endlessly but you can’t remember any of it.

Marcus: No, I do. But we’ve suffered from this recently. Not that recently, but in the last year. And I’ve tried it, and I’ve tried explanations and you get a lot of nodding and ‘Yes, yes, yes’ but then it carries on.

Paul: No I was coming back to what you were saying about pre-empting it. If you say that right at the beginning of the project…I ought to explain to the listener what I mean by that.

Clients tend to come to you with solutions, i.e. ‘Can you make my blue website pink?’ and the problem with that is that it might be a brilliant idea. But you’ve no idea as the designer as you don’t know why you are changing it from blue to pink. So what you need to do is at the very beginning of projects before it all kicks off is to say ‘The client’s job is to identify problems and your job is to find solutions’. So the client needs to express things in terms of a problem. So the problem is ‘I’m worried that our pre-teen girl audience isn’t going to like the blue colour on the website’ and then you as a designer can make a decision as to what the solution is. Whether to make the website pink or to add more unicorns, rainbows etc, whatever pre-teen girls like.

That’s not to say a client can’t express a solution too. I haven’t got a problem with a client turning around and saying ‘pink’ as long as they say why. And that’s what it comes down to. Why? Why do you think you should move this four pixels to the left? Why do you think it should do this?

Leigh: Well the other examples though, where they haven’t actually got feedback from all of the people they needed to, so they are endlessly coming back because they’ve had another conversation with someone else and so a whole range of feedback comes back in dribs and drabs.

Paul: This is something again where I may take a slightly different approach to Headscape and I am increasingly adopting this idea of a single point of contact – I don’t like. I am coming to a point where I prefer all of those stakeholders feed back to me. The reason being is because when it comes via a single point of contact, you get into a scenario where that single point of contact is….

Marcus: They have too much power, maybe.

Paul: Not so much as too much power, but let’s say you are Mr MD of the organisation and Leigh is the project manager and I am the designer. You Mr MD look at the design and go ‘Well I am not very keen on the pink’, right? You then come back to us and say ‘Change the pink’ because you’re Mr Project Manager and you do what Mr MD says. There’s been no conversation between me and the MD then. ‘OK so you’re not very keen on the pink, are you saying we ought to change it? Why are you saying we should change it?’ You’ve got no conversation there. Also if you’ve got lots of stakeholders as well, the other great thing is that if it all comes back to you, you are the one in the position of power. You can pick and say ‘This person said this, so this is what we’ve done. This person said this, I am going to quietly ignore what they said’. So you are more in control of the process.

Marcus: Yes, and that could work in some situations.

Paul: Yes, it’s like anything. It’s not back and white is it.

Marcus: Many stakeholders don’t really want to be involved apart from maybe once. We’ve done projects where we’ve never met some of the stakeholders.

Leigh: That’s the process we used to take. Lots of stakeholders having different feedback and sometimes it will just come down to the most senior, sometimes you weren’t sure which one to… do you feedback on all of those things, are they all consistent and…

Paul: No, the truth is that they wont be consistent and that’s where you need to take control. The designer needs to take control in that situation and say ‘Yes we are listening to this, I am taking this on board. No we’ve decided not to take this particular approach and this is why’. But you can make decisions over it rather than just being dis-empowered by it which is what happens when it all comes via one individual.

Leigh: I think it all depends on how much power or authority that Project Manager has.

Paul: Yes, and it also depends on the type of person they are.

Leigh: Yeah.

Paul: I can think of some clients that would quite happily say ‘Ok well so and so said this, what do you think?’ And you have a conversation about it and you say ‘I don’t think we ought to go down that…’ ‘Ok, I’ll deal with it’ and they will go away and sort out that person. And that’s gold dust if you get someone like that, but you don’t always know whether you are going to get someone like that so you need to have alternative approaches in place. You need to have tools in your toolkit.

Marcus: It’s tricky though. You just don’t know who you are going to get. Some people are like ‘Yeah, looks great, let’s move on’. Other people are literally wanting to go through things pixel by pixel. You have no idea what you are going to get until you start working with them.

Leigh: Could this be a responsibility type matrix thing? Or a skill… what did we say earlier? I forgot what we said?

Paul: Are you saying a skill matrix?

Leigh: No, what did we say at the beginning? We said something.

Marcus: A skills audit.

Leigh: A skills audit. So what are the skills of the actual Project Manager?

Paul: Yes, what’s their style and stuff. This is where trying to do some kind of discovery phase before you get onto design is so useful because you get to know the person. I am very conscious that a lot of people listening to this podcast aren’t working on projects the size of Headscape’s and they are working on much smaller stuff but that can be going out for lunch with someone and having a chat with them over lunch about the personalities and peoples involved.

Marcus: You can do objectives and audience requirements in an hour over coffee. You can do that. It might not be as detailed as you might want, but yeah.

Paul: Ok, ‘What is the best approach for avoiding design by committee’?

Marcus: Erm…

Leigh: Isn’t that what we were just talking about?

Paul: I guess it is really. It’s very similar. The other thing that you can do with that… yeah I think the thing with designed by committee because there are times you can’t get out of sitting in a room full of people.

Marcus: Yes, but try to avoid the committee being too big.

Paul: Also try and avoid making design decisions in the room. In other words, get them to talk about the problems with it, but don’t start…your tendancy is almost… they will start to go ‘If you’re not happy with the blue, and you’re not happy with the pink, can we try green Leigh’?

And you’ll go… ‘Yeah alright’.

What should really happen is one person should say ‘I am not sure about the blue’ and another person will say ‘I am not sure about the pink’ and you as a designer should say ‘Leave it with me, I will go away and do some User Research into this and come back to you’. So you are not trying to find a solution in the room, you are only identifying problems in the room.

I am so damn good at this, so manipulative.

Marcus: That will do. Let’s move on.

Paul: Are we running over by any chance? You just didn’t like that question?

Marcus: I was just being naughty. We are on 39 minutes.

Paul: See what’s the hurry? There might be a lot more advice we could give about committees.

Marcus: You can’t avoid committees – they are a part of life.

Leigh: Everyone feels they have to have some kind of input.

Marcus: I’ve had the classic one where I’ve been trying to say ‘Look, make sure you keep the people who are going to have to be the ones that sign off on things like design, as small as you can’. ‘Yes, yes, there’s three of us’. ‘Brilliant’. ‘But the CEO will have to get sign off as well, and the CEO’s mate’.

Paul: ‘And we need to have to pass it by other people…’

Marcus: ‘…by the Trustees’

Leigh: ‘…by the Trustees’, yeah.

Paul: And this isn’t about avoiding it, but it could be equally about how to manage it. And that is about you taking control and not allowing it to happen in the room.

Marcus: Couldn’t agree more. Design by committee is where everyone is going ‘Oh do that, do that’. Just don’t let that happen. Make sure that, and this goes back to saying ‘you tell me what the problem is, I’ll tell you the solution’, even when you are in the room together, continue that.

Paul: See the other big problem with feedback generally whether it’s being committees or whether it be…however it comes in, is that…and I do this all the time… ‘So you are asking my opinion about this? I don’t really have an opinion but you’ve asked me so I have to make up an opinion’. So there is a degree of that. And there is also a degree of ‘I am so angry at this particular thing at this particular moment and then by tomorrow I’ve forgotten about it and don’t care’. Or some other crisis has come up and I’ve moved on. So not reacting in the room is so important, because things move on.

Talking of moving on. Next question. ‘How do you deal with people who want to show the design to everyone in the business?’

Marcus: Let them. Make a video.

Paul: Yeah, we haven’t talked about the video. Leigh, you’ve become the expert in videos. Why do we do videos and what are their role?

Leigh: I think my favourite thing about them is that people can’t railroad you. I’ve done so many on the phone, and so many times on the phone when I’ve started talking, instantly someone interrupts. And that just completely throws what you were doing.

Marcus: Yeah, you might forget to describe that bit and blah, blah, blah.

Leigh: Yeah, so with a video you can keep it, you can try it once or twice, you can get it right and then distribute that to everybody so they can watch that when they need to.

Paul: And you also have the great advantage of nobody looking at the design without seeing all the background, the thought processes behind it and all that information behind it.

Leigh: I think the key is to make it as short as you can without getting as much information as you can so people just get bored and switch off. Twenty minutes? No. Five minutes if it’s possible.

Paul: It’s so hard isn’t it.

Leigh: Sometimes they are ten.

Marcus: Ed did one today at about five minutes.

Paul: Oh Ed’s a show off.

Marcus: I’ve done them for IAs in the past and I’ve done the first one through and I’ve looked at it and it’s forty-five minutes. Noooooooo.


Delete! Start again. Got it down to twenty-seven minutes.

Paul: But it’s a chance to show things like mood boards, business objectives and talk about all the things that have led to a design coming about. And also, the other thing I like about videos is that you can ask good questions as well at the end. You can say ‘We are really keen to have your feedback’ but then you can load the questions in such a way that you can get the person watching to think about the right kind of issues. So instead of saying ‘What do you think of the design?’ you can say ‘Do you feel this meets your business objectives? Do you feel it meets your user needs?’ etc, etc. Because what happens if you don’t do a video with that kind of stuff is that your Project Manager or whoever is responsible for the design, prints the design off and then starts handing it around the office saying ‘What do you think of this?’

Leigh: Without any context, yeah.

Paul: And with no context, and also you don’t care what they think of it personally. It’s whether it achieves the objectives of the project.

Marcus: You do care a bit though, what they think.

Paul: Yeah. That was a very black and white statement. I am not normally one for those.

Marcus: You’re not? Yes you are! You are. There is one thing. I have always wanted to do this, and we proposed it for an Intranet project that we went for that we didn’t win which is Design by Community which is this idea of you do get everyone who wants to be involved. It could be anyone, as many as possible. If you’ve got a thousand people working for an organisation and you get a thousand people responding to the design and you make decisions based on numbers. So 520 people liked the orange, so we go with the orange.

Leigh: That’s just user testing though isn’t it, really?

Marcus: Well no – it’s internal stakeholders.

Leigh: Well if you have the internal group of people…

Marcus: It’s ideal for intranets because it’s their thing. They are the users who are choosing the design. It just would be fun to do it one time.

Paul: The good thing about it is that it overrides certain people from railroading the project. If you’ve got somebody senior then they all get the same vote as somebody in the mailroom. If there happens to be a loudmouth obnoxious person there, they only get the same voice as anyone else.

Marcus: It lost us the project but…

Leigh: University of Portsmouth once, didn’t you do that one there?

Paul: Oh yeah, we ended up with a MySpace-type design. Because it was back in the MySpace times. It wasn’t quite that no.

Marcus: They voted on all of the different…because this is going back to what we were talking about earlier. We did a design as part of our proposal. You did it Paul, and it won. That design won us the work. And it was the students voting for it rather than a committee.

Leigh: Ahh I see. They voted on the proposal.

Marcus: Back in the day.

Leigh: It won’t be happening again.

Paul: I wouldn’t recommend that approach.

Marcus: It was 2003.

Paul: The idea of democratising the design process and including as many people as possible works really well. I mean, we are at IWMW which is a Higher Education Conference and it works great for an organisation like that. Universities are decentralised so it’s really great with for very open and transparent organisations… it’s great for Government. It’s also very good for a lot of charities. We are working with Doctors Without Borders at the moment and they are a very decentralised organisation. And that would be another great environment, so it’s really good for Not-for-Profits, people that I specialise in – did I mention that earlier?


So yes, there we go. My feet are squeaking on the floor which is very annoying.

Marcus: It sounded like someone screaming. A distant echo…echo.


Marcus: This is going to be so hard for people to listen to. I do apologise.

Paul: I thought you were good with audio? Can’t you just remove all the echoes?

Marcus: I am going to try.

Paul: There are tricks you can do isn’t there with audio?

Marcus: I will be trying to make it not as bad. We’ll see.

Paul: Good man. Well done. Whats the next question?

‘What should we cover when presenting a design?’ That’s a good question.

Marcus: Because you’ve spent all that time in your kick-off meetings sorting out what the organisational objectives are, who the users are, what the users want to get from the final site, then you basically read back how you’ve dealt with all those things in the design.

Paul: You refer to your mood boards, you refer to your wire framing, you refer to your personas and usability testing, all of that kind of stuff. You might be thinking all your projects are very small and that you can’t do all of that kind of thing, but all of those things you can do very quickly and very dirtily and it’s worth it. And I will tell you why it’s worth it, it will save you all those iterations. It will cut down on the number of iterations because you’ve got hard facts to justify your design with. So spending a little bit of money with something like to get some usability testing done on the website, to spend a few moments looking through their analytics on their existing site, to have a quick chat about business objectives and user needs, and to knock up a few personas is all worth it in order to get a justification for your design approach.


Wow, that suddenly fell very silent.

Did I just get a little bit lecturer-y there?

Marcus: We switched off. We were at the back of the class again there Paul.

Paul: Yeah. I really embarrass myself. When we were in the hall there you guys went to sit at the back and I walked in and without thinking, I saw you at the back and I said ‘Oh you two slacking at the back again?’ And everyone’s heads come up to look at you as I just shouted across the room.

Leigh: You did say it very, very loudly.

Paul: Such problem with volume control.

Ok, what else have we got here? Oh, last question. ‘What does the client need to sign off? Do they need to sign of static comps, wire frames, mood boards, etc? What parts do you want to sign off on?’

Leigh: That’s very interesting and there’s another question. Sign up itself.

Paul: You’re not allowed to make your own questions up.

Marcus: You can Leigh, do it. Do it.

Paul: I think I agree with what you are about to say.

Leigh: Yes, sign off. It’s supposedly this momentous time where you move on but it never happens! It’s not real! I’ve had so many times thing have been signed off. And it’s pointless.

Paul: And it means nothing. Me and Marcus disagree over this because he likes sign off.

Leigh: I like the idea of sign off, but if it’s real.

Marcus: It’s not always real, but quite a lot of the time it is, so it’s worthwhile.

Paul: My other problem with it is I think it builds stuff out of proportion in people’s minds because it has to be made perfect before it’s signed off.

Marcus: But then you can talk about that…

Paul: But if you talk about it, what are you going to say ‘Oh don’t worry, we can change stuff afterwards’. Which undermines the whole point of having sign off so why bother?

Marcus: I wouldn’t be saying that.

Paul: Well what would you say?

Marcus: I’d be saying that look at general aspects of the design, yes there will be detail… you will be signing off how the header looks, how the navigation works but of course there will be other elements that we will need to design which haven’t been done yet.

Leigh: Maybe it needs a better term like ‘Time to move on’? Just ‘Sign off’ sounds like…

Paul: I think it’s a complete waste of time. I really do.

Marcus: Sometimes yes. But not always, so it’s worthwhile therefore.

Leigh: I think it just needs a different term, like it’s time to move on to the next part now.

Paul: But that naturally happens. You go ‘Here’s the mood boards, here’s the testing that we’ve done with these mood boards, this is what we are feeling – are you happy for us to carry on?’ It doesn’t have to be ‘We need you to send an email formalising the fact that you have agreed to these mood boards’.

Marcus: Signing off mood boards? No.

Paul: No, not with mood boards. You are saying design comps should be signed off.

Marcus: I think it’s worth doing one comp. It doesn’t have to be a flat comp either. But at some point it’s worth saying ‘we have agreed the majority of the design elements’.

Paul: You’re just watering it down, watering it down to the point it’s pointless.

Marcus: I am ignoring you Paul.


Paul: We’ve been having this argument – how long have we been having this argument?

Marcus: Quite a long time.

Paul: Five or six years?


Leigh: But actually how would that work with Agile.

Marcus: Well we agreed earlier that Agile is silly.

Leigh: They say signing off in Agile is getting on with the next bit.

Marcus: Well we are talking about design here and I think you have to be a bit careful with Agile and design.

Paul: Again, I disagree with this as well.

Marcus: I don’t have any problem dealing with design and how something looks visually in an Agile way, but don’t just kind of meld it all into now we are going to build something. I think you need to do it first and then have an Agile design phase, or a design little project that deals with the visual design and then you can go on to start building, because you’ve already got it in place.

Paul: But you can’t do the design before you’ve got the user stories, that’s craziness.

Marcus: You can do elements of it, otherwise how can you do branding?

Paul: Well branding isn’t asking people to complete tasks. It’s not a user interface. The user interface involves users interacting with something and for you to build a user interface, you need to know what those users are going to interact and what they are going to do.

Marcus: Yes so Waterfall is the answer.


Paul: This is why I’ve lead Headscape people. Can you imagine thirteen years of dealing with this shit?

I do see where you are coming from but the danger where I am frightened about design and Agile is that Agile, from the Developers perspective of Agile, Agile consists of working through a series of use cases and those use cases are functional in nature normally, or content related in nature and that you remove the opportunity to look holistically at the design in its entirety.

Marcus: Correct.

Paul: The way I like dealing with that for a project that is largely a content based website, which is most of the work that Headscape does, instead of the Agile sprints doing use case, use case, use case, use case, actually what you are doing is working down through fidelity. So sprint one is doing maybe just creating the IAs. Sprint two is doing this, sprint three is doing…

Marcus: That was what I was saying. I agree. We agree, Paul!

Paul: Only because you’ve just changed your mind to agree with me. Finally. Thirteen years that’s taken me.

Marcus: I’ve not changed my mind. He just said the same thing I did.

Paul: I feel sorry for you Leigh. You are now trapped. Trapped into listening to this shit all the time.

Marcus: He doesn’t listen to quite as much shit anymore does he?


Paul: Oh Marcus, I love you mate.


It is quite interested mind. Since I stopped working for The Headscape…

Marcus: The Headscape?

Paul: Ooo lets add that. That’s awesome. You could get .com then. Someone’s now just gone and registered that.

Leigh: That’s the backwards way to Facebook then isn’t it. It was going to be The Facebook.

Paul: Were they really?

Marcus: Did you not see the film?

Paul: I have got the memory of the goldfish.

Marcus: What’s his name?

Leigh: What’s-his-face from ….. Nabster guy. Sean…

Paul: I need to watch that again then.


Paul: Anyway we will begin to wrap up the show. We’ll quickly talk about who is our other sponsor with over 3,000 on demand video courses on business, creativity, technical skills. You name it, they’ve got it really. It’s a great place to learn new skills, whether you want to learn how to design a website, writing code, writing good copy for your website…

Leigh: Sean Parker, that’s him.

Marcus: Sean Parker.

Paul: Hey! I am in the middle of this… They are back on form this week as last week they failed to have any videos on our topic. This week they do. They’ve got videos on getting sign off and getting approval. I don’t know what the difference is, I am guessing in the title. So check those out because they will go into a lot more detail and be much more comprehensive than our waffly arguments.

You can stream thousands of videos on demand and learn at your own schedule. The courses are structured so you can start and stop them as you want, you can watch them in little bite size pieces which is nice. All of it is available for an unlimited flat fee. Think about it as the Netflix of learning.

Leigh: Yes.

Paul: I like that. Now you stole a account didn’t you?

Leigh: Pardon?

Paul: Lets talk about this on the podcast, because I feel this is something that needs to be highlighted. You were complaining earlier how you used to love because you were logged in via someone else’s account. And then they stopped using it and you were too tiught to pay for it.

Leigh: Ermmmmyeeeees? I have just signed up, only the other day.

Paul: Have you?

Leigh: Not to pay, just to trial. Although I am tempted to allow Marcus to give me an account and pay for every month.

Paul: I think it should be. Headscape should be investing.

Marcus: We could have a Headscape one, or does it have to be ten?

Leigh: I don’t know.

Paul: Can we have a Headscape log in. Of course you can. The problem will be potentially… I don’t know this. I should know this. If you were progressing through a course you wouldn’t have your own individual stats of course.

Leigh: And can more than one person use it at the same time?

Paul: I think the likelihood of that is fairly low. Because you are the only one that works at 3.00am in the morning.

Leigh: Oh I see, from that point of view, quite possibly yeah.

Marcus: I see no reason why not.

Paul: As Leigh has pointed out, you get a ten day free trial where you can try stuff out. You can get that by going to I hope you used this bloody URL. You didn’t did you?

Leigh: I didn’t know it was a sponsor, no.

Paul: Do you not listen to the podcast? They’ve been a sponsor Leigh.

Marcus: He’s even been on the show.

Leigh: So would it benefit me?

Paul: No.

Leigh: So why would I bother?

Paul: It would be a benefit for me.

Leigh: Why would I want to benefit you?

Paul: Because I give to… charity.


Leigh: Good poijnt.

Paul: Please use it, even if it won’t benefit you it will benefit me and that’s what matters.

Marcus. Give us a joke.

Marcus: Jonathan Stark who was on last week’s show gave us an extra joke which I thought was rather good.

Paul: Are you just going to play it? Did you record it?

Marcus: I could do that, but I am going to say it anyway because I am lazy.

‘Stake puns. that’s a rare medium, well done’.

Paul: Get it? He doesn’t get it.

Leigh: Who?

Paul: You.

Leigh: I get it.

Paul: Well why didn’t you laugh then?

Leigh: I didn’t find it particularly funny. I’d also read it about ten minutes ago…

Paul: Ahh see that’s no good.

Leigh: Can we try that again.

Marcus: Take over.

Paul: I think Marcus needs to start putting laughter tracks over his jokes.

Marcus: I’ve got them.

Paul: Do it!

Marcus: Thousands of people laughing. Cheering.

Paul: We’ve only got ten listeners or whatever it was. I’ve lost count now.

Alright that’s it for this week. Next week we are going to be looking at growing your business which is obviously a big thing. We are going to be joined by Jeremy Keith to discuss this which will be a hoot.

Now I have to confess originally I asked Andy Budd to come on.

Marcus: Jeremy doesn’t really do growing your business does he.

Paul: No, this might be a problem for this show but he is actually one of the co-founders of ClearLeft which have grown really big. Andy said he’d brief him as he will be away. So as we speak Jeremy is boning up on how to grow and run your business.

Thank you for listening and talk to you again soon.