I cannot tell you how many times I hear, “I’m not a designer, so I don’t have an opinion” or “I don’t really know anything about design, so I’ll leave it up to you,” when working on website redesign or graphic design projects.
While I understand someone's initial inclination to say these things, that doesn't change the fact that they're wrong. (But for a good reason.)
Think of it this way:
You may not be a master chef -- and maybe you don’t even cook at all -- but I am sure you have an opinion on your dinner. In fact, most likely no one ever taught you what food you liked or disliked or how or why you liked it, but by experiencing it for yourself, you have formed your own opinions on it. Right?
You might now be saying, "But Marcella, food is way different than design. I eat food every day, but I’ve never designed anything.”
Well, my friend, I am here today to tell you that you are way more familiar with design than you think.
Design Is Everywhere
Look around you right now.
What does your web browser look like? Any magazines or newspapers nearby? Art on the walls? Books? A notification on your phone? Is there a print on your shirt or the furniture around you? Maybe an afternoon snack like a bag of chips sitting on your desk?
These are things you see all day every day and have seen for your whole life.
Someone designed these things. Whether you like it or not, you are completely immersed in design from the day you are born.
You may not take note of it, yes, because as Jared Spool says, “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible,” but you are.
And this is primarily the reason why I think you truly believe you know nothing about design.
Maybe you don’t think you have an opinion on most things because they simply work, but when something doesn’t work or look as you expect, you notice right?
Maybe you don’t know exactly how to express why just yet (we’ll get there) but step one is knowing you do have a place at the table.
“...But You’re The Expert.”
Yes, I am trained in design and will probably know more about the topic than you initially, but that doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t important and valuable.
One of the most critical (and sometimes most difficult) parts of working with a designer is creating an effective feedback loop.
No, a website should never be designed solely with opinions, but it is still critically important to take into account throughout the design process.
Why Your Design Opinion Matters
When you begin a redesign, you most likely have already spent countless hours looking at the websites of your competitors.
By doing so, without you even realizing it, you were forming opinions about design; what you like and don’t like; what may work for your brand and goals; taking note of what your audience may respond to.
We designers will do our due diligence, but it is unlikely that we will match the amount of background knowledge you yourself have on your own site, industry, competitors, and more.
The more you are able to transfer some of what you already know to your designer, the better you are equipping them with tools for making your site a downright knockout. (But, of course, try to support your ideas with some solid data or facts as well.)
On the other hand, if you choose not to talk about your opinions and *trust the expert,* maybe your website will, in fact, turn out fine --or maybe it won’t.
In my experience, a website (or the accompanying relationship) has NEVER been made better by silence.
Even if you express your opinion on a direction and it ultimately isn’t used in the final product, that discussion is still important.
It can build trust and understanding with your designer. Often there’s a reason why something should be a certain way and a good designer will take the time to explain to you why things are the way that they are.
Where To Start
Being able to say whether you like (or dislike) something is a great place to start a conversation, but here are a few ways you can empower yourself to speak more confidently on a design.
Learn Some Basic Design Terms and Principles
By studying up on some basic design lingo, it will not only help you be able to critically think about WHY you like something but will also be able to help you express those feelings as well.
Here are a few great resources to get you started and don’t sweat it, you got this!
It’s hard to know where to start giving feedback when you’re looking at a mockup of an entire page, but if you break it down by feature or section it can be easier to dive into some specifics of what you do and do not like.
Start by asking yourself specific questions and then always follow it up with why to dig deeper?
Do I like this image? Why?
Do I like this font? Why?
Do I like this color? Why?
Does this section work overall? Why?
Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, published this awesome list of “Questions I ask when reviewing a design”. This is a great exercise you can use to up the ante on your question game.
Practice asking yourself (and your designer) these questions about a design.
Never be afraid to ask why something is a certain way.
I actually love when my clients ask me questions. It helps me reaffirm my own decisions or question them in a way that will improve our project.
Don’t be afraid that asking for “the why” undermines your designer’s decisions.
Creating thoughtful designs and expressing the thought that went into it is just another part of what we do.
Just like with any relationship, communication is key. That means the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more we can openly communicate, the stronger the final product will be.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be able to speak our language perfectly, even being able to say, “I really like this section on this page” can help us open a dialogue on what works or what does not.
We Need to Talk...
I’m kidding, but not really. We do need to talk. The reason I have published so much in the school of design communication is because I am so passionate about it.
My strongest work always comes from the engagements that have the best communication around design.
So if you won’t do it to help me, do it to help yourself. I promise that increasing the lines of communication with your designer will always result in a better overall outcome.
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