Help Clients Find The Web Design of Their Dreams

Growing up my Mom used to dread going shopping for Prom dresses because I’d have a vision of what I wanted in my head.  We’d go to the mall and hunt through store after store. My Mom would hold up dresses saying, “How ’bout this one?”  If she was lucky I’d say, “Gross.”  Most of the time I’d give her the Stink Eye along with a look that said, “Seriously?  Do you know me at all?”

She’d try to get me to describe what I wanted, but I never could.  After visiting nearly every store, we wouldn’t find anything close.  And I would pout.  And sulk.  And be a typical teenager…

Sorry, Mom.

Eventually I’d settle on *something*.  But it was never the dress I had in my head.

Today I find my clients in a similar situation, and  I’ve been trying to figure out how to help them describe the Prom dress of their dreams.

Okay, I’m not literally trying to help them describe a Prom dress.  But I am trying to help them describe the ‘look and feel’ they have in mind for their website.

From time to time this is what would happen.  Maybe you can relate:

I’d be in a client meeting with a graphic designer.  The graphic designer was tasked with turning my conceptual web design into a work of art.  The graphic designer and client would discuss the so called ‘look and feel’ and I would hear clients say:

  • “We want it to be clean.”
  • “We need pictures of [scientists].”
  • “We really like how [another website] looks.”
  • “The [house ad] has to pop.”

The graphic designer would probe the clients for details:

  • Clean (as opposed to dirty)?
  • Scientists in lab coats with test tubes or something else?
  • What do you like?  The colors of the website?  The typography?
  • What do you mean ‘pop’?

And on and on.

After an hour or so, both client and graphic designer would begin nodding.  It would appear they understood one another.  Everyone was happy.  Everyone was excited.

The graphic designer would go off and create.  The clients would wait filled with anticipation.

Then the magical day would arrive!  The BIG REVEAL! And in some cases, that was the day I would get a phone call from my client that went something like this:

“Megan, umm…we got the designs…they…umm…aren’t exactly what we expected.”

And then we would talk about what they enjoyed, what surprised them and what concerned them.  In other words, I’d try to lead them through a thoughtful critique.  The designs would be revised and the clients would be happy in the end.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this process.  Design is iterative.

Still, the whole thing reminded me of picking out Prom dresses with my Mom.  Are we unintentionally asking clients to settle on a web design?

Can we do better?  Can we do something to help clients describe the Prom dress (or web design) of their dreams?

Here’s what I came up with:  A Guide to Communicating Your Design Vision [PPT file, 12 MB].  If you download the PowerPoint File, you’ll find two ‘parts’ in it.

Part 1:  Examples. I wanted to show clients how color, patterns, textures, photography and typography can come together to create this ‘look and feel’ thing we talk about incessantly.

Part 2:  Client homework assignment. I started asking clients to create an inspiration gallery.  I’d ask them to visit websites they liked and disliked, take a screen shot, and then answer a few questions about the screen shot.

My clients are comfortable working in PowerPoint, so I created slide masters that allow them to simply ‘fill in the blanks’ and drop in their screen shots.

(Though I am not including one in the download, I also give them a completed inspiration gallery so they can see what it looks like at the end.)

I ask my clients to bring their completed inspiration gallery to the meeting with the graphic designer.  When clients take the time to complete the exercise, it really seems to help. Maybe it’s because their inspiration gallery becomes the starting point of the conversation.  Maybe it works because they begin thinking about design as more than just color.  Maybe it simply helps them feel more empowered to talk about design.

Whatever the reason, I really hope the Guide gives them a way to describe the web design that is stuck in their heads.

This is still a work in progress.  Please send me your suggestions!

In fact, feel free to download it, destruct it and share it with others.  If you do change it, promise me one thing:  Promise me you’ll send me a copy so I can use it too.

Speaking of inspiration, I want to thank some of the people who inspired me to come up with the Guide to Communicating Your Design Vision:

By the way, the opinions and statements included in this file are mine and mine alone.  They are not necessarily adopted or endorsed or verified by my employer, the National Academy of Sciences.  Jim, I hope this disclaimer is sufficient. 😉

2 thoughts on “Help Clients Find The Web Design of Their Dreams

  1. I love this! I’m definitely going to use it on my next project. Hmm… wonder if I could adapt it so it gets people to think about interface patterns and interaction behaviors that they like, too? Fun. If I do, I’ll send you what I come up with.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Leah! It means so much to me that you took the time to look at the work because you’ve been an incredible source of inspiration to me. Do let me know how it works out!

      I love the idea of tweaking it for interface patterns. I experimented with a modified version of the FIDO method ( as a way of introducing a limited number of patterns to my clients. It didn’t quite work out as well as I hoped (i.e., More time consuming than I wanted.) but I firmly believe I could make it more lightweight if I had the opportunity to try it again in the future. In fact, maybe that’s a story for a future post…

      Thanks again for visiting. Hope you’ll consider sharing the blog entry with others!


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