Web Design is in the Eye of the Beholder

Web designI’m in the process of redesigning my corporate Web site, which has not seen a lot of love or attention since I launched my digital marketing and social media consulting business two years ago.

Having looked at thousands of Web sites (an occupational and personal hazard) and helped a growing number of clients develop and design their Web sites, I have a pretty good idea of how I want to look and what I want it to do. The challenge I’ve discovered is turning a vision into reality is challenging and, at times, frustrating.

At the same time, it has been really insightful to be on the other side of the table. It has given me a new appreciation about a client’s needs and how the process of creating a new or refreshed Web site needs to be structured.

One of the biggest lessons is that simply having a vision isn’t good enough. Nor is it enough to talk to a designer about the look and feel that you want. The problem is neither approach gives a designer enough insight and information about what you want or like. Design is a very subjective and personal thing so one person’s idea of good design can be radically different than other person’s.

Here are a few “rules” about Web design that I consider essential:

1. When you’re deciding on a Web designer, review their portfolios to see if their work and style aligns with your vision. Be critical. If you don’t like what you see, move on. If their works catches your eye, ask for a meeting to get a sense of fit, including how they like to work and the processes they use. Ask for references to get more information and insight about how other projects happened.

2. Before you launch a project, select a number of Web sites you like. They don’t need to have similar themes but it helps to pick Web sites that have the look and feel you’re striving to achieve. At the time, you can pick Web sites that have particular features you like. At the same time, ask the Web designer for Web sites they like to get a better sense of their taste.

3. Make sure there is a structured process that starts with an initial meeting, followed by a brainstorming/information session, and then by wireframes and mockups before you get to actually creating the design. Along the way, there needs to be opportunities to change things, although there should be limits, otherwise you’ll be change/edit hell.

4. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you don’t like the work being done. At the end of the day, it’s your Web site and you want it to work for you. It means if the process or design isn’t hitting home, speak up or forever hold your peace.

5. The cost of a Web design can be small or huge depending on your needs. Establish a budget before you start so a designer knows what they have to work with if, in fact, they decide to work with you.

To get a better sense of the Web sites that I find appeal, here’s a mini-list:
- MailChimp
- Rogers Ventures
- Orange Sprocket

About Mark Evans

I'm the principle with ME Consulting, which provides strategic and marketing services to startups and entrepreneurs. This includes strategic and tactics plans, core messaging, brand positioning and content planning and creation.
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  • nathan marcarelli

    This is a great article. I find that when most new clients come to me, they have a tough time expressing what kind of design they want. They will tell me “Just do a mock of how you interpret what I am saying”. That statement alone freaks me out because I know in the process there will 40-50 revisions of one page trying to nail it down.

    3 important things that a designer needs are.

    1) Client needs to compile a list of sites that they like. Design, Feel, Colors. It doesn’t have to look like the site you want, but as a designer we can tell why you like it.
    2) If a client can draw WireFrames than more power to you. That will enable a designer to get an idea of where things could go.
    3) A client that willing to listen. Designers do Design for a living. Listen to them. If you think it is a good idea to have a top navigation and put you sub navigation on the side and you designer disagrees listen why. They understand the functionality of a website and how customers will react in different designs.

    Nathan Marcarelli Small Business Web Design

    • Mark Evans


      Thanks for the insight and the three tips. Good to get some info from a Web designer. cheers, Mark

  • Max Blacks

    ***MARK USE THIS VERSION PLEASE*** I HIT THE SUBMIT BUTTON ACCIDENTALLY before I could read and edit ‘wot I rote’!!

    I get why your site needs changing without wanting to be rude, I am British and I do call a spade a spade so sometimes what I write can come across in the mind of the reader as rude, the existing site is boring. I have no idea what ‘digital marketing’ is and only a vague idea what ‘media strategy is’ ergo I have no idea if I need either so I am out of there!
    I came across you via Simply Zesty and ended up on your blog NOT your web site. So perhaps that in itself is a message?

    The sites you list;
    Mailchimp NAIL IT. There is no chance for confusion to creep in on their homepage and more importantly there is no thought or interpretation required on my part. Great!
    Rogers Ventures is way too confusing. I have to try and work out what they are offering and naturally I gave up after a couple seconds as I don’t really want to think.
    Orange Sprocket the ‘digital creative agency’ means I have to try and work out what a digital creative agency is and I might get it wrong so won’t bother.
    Irrational, illogical but that is the mindset of most people who land on web pages which is why the bounce rate is so high. Even worse as you go down their page the text blocks crash into each other on Firefox which isn’t very professional and is an instant turn off. If they cannot get their homepage sorted what chance have they of getting ‘my site sorted?’

    Of the three the Mailchimp layout, colour combo, message etc is the best in my opinion. Just about the only thing they get wrong (and they may well be testing) is they have the ‘how it works’ underneath the ‘what’s new’. I’m ‘new to Mailchimp’ and I like what I see but I want to know how it works not how innovative they are.

    All viewed on a a 13 inch Dell XPS and I only see the top third to a half of the pages. To be honest yours is laid out better than the Rogers and Sprockets pages are it’s just that it has no message that leaps out like Mailchimps does.
    Personally I would create three landing pages that lead the potential client straight into the relevant area of your expertise without giving them chance to get all confused by having to decide if they are on the right page.

    Lastly Mailchimps static graphic banner hit’s the spot whereas I find the moving ones annoying.
    There are always, always a line of spots, dots, or numbers across the moving banners so straight away I don’t know whether to wait for them all to play or do I move down the page to try and figure out what I am supposed to do next to find what I am looking for. I always end up going somewhere else pretty damn quick.
    (Nathan don’t take this the wrong way but what is the point of the arrows on your static graphic? They don’t do anything as I found out when I tried to click on them!)

    I know I am telling you ‘how to suck eggs’ but there really is no ‘ideal’ web site design that hits all the bases constantly but you cannot neglect a site for as much as a month these days as there are so many new ones appearing day in day out that are owned by people who are doing what you are about to do and figure out what is currently working. Your two year sabbatical from tweaking your site is a luxury you cannot afford.


    • Mark Evans


      Thanks for the insight. I’m discovering that coming up with a design that meets the needs of the site’s visitors and my needs is challenging and requires a lot of thinking. I agree that like a home, a Web site is never perfect but having a good plan before you build is always a good idea! cheers, Mark