When you’re in the market to buy, say, a lawnmower, you typically find an ok option, a better option, and a top-of-the-line option (and, possibly, some risky Craigslist stuff). At its core, shopping for relatively large purchases is always a money vs. quality tradeoff. Which are you willing to sacrifice for the other?
Web design services are no different.
Lots of baseline web designers are mostly interested in making a quick buck, and will gladly implement your design ideas exactly as instructed (nevermind that they’re horrible ideas). These are the ok options.
Others will ask you to send links to other sites you like the look of, so they can cherry-pick their way to a “unique” design that will win your approval (and deliver their paycheck) as quickly as possible. These are the better options.
But true professionals—the top-of-the-line designers—aren’t interested in your ideas or site examples. They’re going to ask you what your business problems are.
The primary goal of real designers is to make your business better, and that process doesn’t start with a color scheme or a certain template. It starts with analysis and strategy. Real web designers are problem solvers, first and foremost.
Stop Trying to Solve Your Problems with your Competitors’ Solutions
When you’re designing a website, it’s only natural to begin by scrutinizing your competitors’ sites. You want to know what you’re up against—what your customers will likely see shortly before or after they see your site.
But this is a dangerous habit. The more time you spend behind enemy lines (if you will), the more opportunity you’ll have to subconsciously cement ideas into your head of what your site should be, based on what their sites are.
The problem: your competitors’ sites represent solutions to their problems, not yours. Maybe you have similar audiences and products, but your business problems are unique. (And if your businesses do appear to be truly identical, than you have other problems—namely, branding problems.)
Besides, maybe the site elements you see on your competitors’ sites aren’t even working for them. Maybe they have a cool homepage, but the navigation through the buying process is confusing and ultimately leading to conversion failures. Maybe you find their main headline bold and daring, but their audience finds it off-putting.
Good design is the end result of a process that includes business and user analyses, careful strategizing, prototypes, and plain old hard work. You simply can’t start with the end result of someone else’ process and expect it to negate the need for your own.
Why You Need Someone to Help You Solve Your Problems
Sometimes, clients come into the web design process with this attitude: “I could do this myself—I just don’t have time.”
Chances are, the reason you’re looking for web design services is that something about your business is not working. Something about the way your website looks now—presumably, a look that’s based on your original ideas—is not working.
Fresh perspective helps. Particularly, it helps to bring in someone who’s outside of your business, who’s dealt with lots of other websites and solved lots of other business problems before yours. Look for someone who’s focused on results, proven through numbers, rather than a certain final “look.”
The thing is: you’ve tried. It isn’t working. And even if you have some fresh new ideas, you’re in too deep to ever have fresh perspective again.
Design as Problem Solving, and What You Can Do
Here are the four simple steps of a successful website redesign:
1. Identify or understand your problem.
2. Devise a plan to fix it.
3. Implement your plan.
4. Analyze whether the plan was successful.
If you took the time to invest in a reputable designer that you trust, you should feel confident laying out your company’s problems and then stepping back. Resist the urge to request or even suggest certain solutions. Consider the possibility that your great ideas could distract from or block their potentially much better ones.
What you can do is put real effort into understanding your users and helping your designers understand them, too. What particular problem does your product or service solve for them? Why should they go to you over your competitors? How have you made your product easy to use or your services readily accessible?
Do Not Undervalue Your Copy
This is one of the biggest mistakes new designers make. It’s also a big mistake clients make, thinking they’ve identified a good way to save a few bucks.
Your copy helps define the emotional experience of your site, and as such, it’s a critical part of your overall design. Without good copy, you might attract an audience, but they won’t stick around. Sure, a boring sentence won’t necessarily send potential customers running, but a poorly written one might. Grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, choppy language—it all screams unprofessional, and it suggests that you don’t care.
When hiring a web designer, make sure that person is asking the right questions. The top-of-the-line designers—the true professionals—will be asking about your business and its problems, not the look or color scheme you had in mind. Their #1 goal is to make your business thrive, and theirs is the perspective you want.