Adapting your design process

Adapting your web design process

One of the biggest problems we have when starting a new web design for a client, is trying to figure out what image of the final product the client has in their head, or even the direction they want to go in. Some clients know exactly what they want a web design to look like, and others have barely thought about it all. We’ve learnt to change the steps we take when doing a design, so that we don’t waste time doing work that’s off the mark.

While it’s important that the steps of a project are documented and consistent when working with a team, having flexibility in how you arrive at each milestone can mean a better product. For the design process, we’ve found a few different tools that work well for us, and choose the ones that best fit the job.

Mood boards

Mood boards

These are great when your client is unsure of the direction for the design. If they don’t have any branding guidelines or even a logo, it can be hard to figure out what they are expecting for the design. With mood boards, the goal is to create a page that embodies a ‘mood’ that could be used for the design. You can do this with a collage of images, colours, textures, typefaces.. anything you need to establish the mood.

They don’t need to be a masterpiece, and it’s important to explain to your client that they are for establishing design direction, it’s not an early draft of their website. I’ve found having two or three mood boards to show your client works well, giving them a chance to compare different design directions and lots of points for discussion.

Style tiles

Style tiles

Sometimes a client will know what they want a design to look like, but communicating that can be hard. They might describe it as modern, clean and professional, but what those words mean to them could be very different from what they mean to you, and it’s that translation into the actual design that can be extremely frustrating. Style tiles are something I read about recently by Samantha Warren, and they are a fantastic way to make it clear for everyone what direction to use for the design.

By showing the client some different interpretations of the design direction in the form of a page of design elements, the client can quickly clarify which of your interpretations is the closest to theirs. Style tiles aren’t meant to be a final design either, but should contain elements common to web design like headings, blocks of text and buttons as well as examples of things like the colour palette, textures, borders etc.

Design comps

Design comps

While mood boards and style tiles are used for establishing direction, the design comp is the final, polished design that the client usually signs off on. If you’ve used mood boards or style tiles to agree on a design direction with your client, it might be fine to complete the design comp, and only then present it to the client. But if your client already has a design direction in the form of a comprehensive branding guide, I’ve found it’s best to get feedback from the client on the final comp as early as possible, and break the final comp up into a series of drafts. This can save a lot of time, as making changes to an unpolished design is a lot quicker.

By using a few different design processes like this, it can be much easier to reach a final design that your client is happy with, than forcing the project through a process that doesn’t fit your client.

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