Designing a website (or anything, really) is not for the faint of heart. It requires many conscientious, well-thought-out decisions regarding elements that the untrained eye wouldn’t normally pick up on without some guidance. Having an expertly designed website is more than just making it look nice. It’s about functionality and subconscious, subtle cues to push users in a certain direction. It could be argued that the realm of online marketing is a diarchy, with content as king but website design as is it’s equally influential queen. You can have the best content in the world, but if it’s laid out in a clunky or difficult-to-navigate way, even the most curious of readers will lose their interest.

That’s why today we are sitting down with Brian, one of the best designers in the business (and we’re not just saying that because he’s on our team), to learn a little about what goes into planning a website design, and what things you should keep in the forefront of your mind when deciding on the best route to go. If you attend our workshop series on website rebuilds, you may even run into Brian at the office.

1. When you have to design a new website, what are the very first thoughts you have as to how you will begin effectively planning it’s layout?

“I typically start by asking, “Who is this for?” Audience, in my opinion, is the most important aspect to design. That stat directly affects things like UI, UX, marketing strategy, etc.

I think it’s so important to understand who is going to be using your site or product. You have to take the time in the wire-framing and content stages to really get in the headspace of the determined user. If you can tap into what the audience needs and how they’re receiving the content, you can begin to QA in the earliest stages. I find second guessing yourself before any concrete decisions are made allows you to explore both practical and impractical choices.”

2. What is the biggest mistake someone can make in their design layout?

“I suppose believing your first idea is the best idea you have, whether it is or isn’t. You should explore your first idea, absolutely, but be honest enough with yourself to know when it’s time to either ask for a second opinion or abandon it altogether.”

3. What are the most important things to have on a homepage, and what are some ways you can design your site to call them out effectively?

“In order to determine the most important aspects of your homepage, and full site for that matter, the first thing you have to take into consideration is audience.

For example, if user testing shows that people are jumping straight to a certain page through navigational use, it’s safe to say a good amount of fresh users are going to want to get to that same page just as quickly – if not quicker.

The purpose of the website, as simple as this seems, dictates user flows. If you have a new product you’re highlighting, direct calls to action to that specific product are an obvious choice. If your website is more informational, or service based, you’ll want to determine the key service group needing highlighted and devote real estate on the homepage to those specifics.”

4. What’s the most (and least) helpful feedback you can receive from clients?

“Any feedback from a client is helpful. I know that is a diplomatic answer but it’s true. When a client isn’t responding to a design or direction but can’t articulate the exact ‘why’ it shouldn’t be a surprise to you. If a client could tell you why a design isn’t achieving the necessary goals through the principles of gestalt, then they never really needed your expertise anyway.

Now in those moments when a client gives the infamous feedback of ‘I will know it when I see it’ I try to remind them that hitting a moving target isn’t impossible, but it can be costly – both with their time and allotted budgets.

My best suggestion would be to get the client talking, thinking out loud. An example of this could go as follows:

‘We don’t like the design.’
‘Okay, can you speak a little more to some of the aspects of the design that you’re not responding to?’
‘If I had to say something, I would say we don’t really love the use of [color].’

In that simple exchange you start to ascertain a color story from the client and that alone can start to move you in a direction of how color relates to space and design.

And then sometimes you’re just going to have to guess. You’ll know it when you see it.”

5. When redesigning a website, how do you decide what aspects are important enough to keep versus what aspects need to be changed?

“Analytics.

Listen, if the Oakland Athletics could use measurable data to win 20 games in a row in 2002 we should be able to use it to successfully make a website better.

If a client doesn’t have analytics on their current site, shame on them – but it happens. In this case it’s user research, client discussion, and marketing strategy that help to determine the choices to be made. And hard work. Did I say hard work? Hard work.”

6. Is there a hard and fast rule to designing? Or is it more often than not that each design is a case by case process?

“The only rule I follow is to remember that not many people are going to care what a site looks and functions like, so you better care for everyone.”

7. How do you stay up-to-date on the latest design techniques?

“I wish there were a more elegant answer than social media, blogs, conferences, and peers in the industry, but there isn’t. If something strikes you, research it – find out who made it, why they made it, how they made it, and what steps they took to reach their goal. From there improve that process and result.

The greatest tool a designer can have is two functioning eyes, a beating heart, and the gift of perception. Also you better know how to use the Adobe Suite.”