There are many factors that can determine the success of a website or print design. Great composition, balanced use of color, perfect type design, quality photography, and much more. But how do you know when your design is truly finished?
This is a tough question, and some would argue never. While I, from an artistic standpoint, agree with this, a design can find the finish line in many ways. One of the methods I’ve come to utilize when deciding if a piece of work is complete or not is to reach out to others. This may seem counterintuitive and might not be a process most designers embrace, it does shine some light on the current state of a design.
Know what you’re getting into!
Ok, I feel obligated to mention that this approach and process is not for the faint of heart. Your design will be praised and loved as much as it will be torn apart and demolished. You must be willing to take criticism and at times admit you may be wrong. It may seem like this process is more of a test of endurance and how much punishment you can take, but with the right approach you will find invaluable answers that will help bring your design to a ready-for-world state.
Know your audience…
…not the audience who will be receiving this design, you’ve already done your research on them. I’m talking about the people you will be reaching out to for a second opinion. It may be tough to identify each one at first, but over time and with some experience it will become easier. Below I mention some of the common personas you will meet and how to identify them.
This one’s easy. The praiser will almost always have nothing but great things to say about your design. Even the slight negative criticism is still overly positive. While this individual is great for our egos, it can be tough to pull useful information from them that can be translated towards improving your design. The key here is to find the extreme! What truly impressed them? What made them say, “Wow!”? Usually, their critique will start big and slowly tail off. With The Praiser, their first evaluation is generally the meat of their critique. Take note of this and move on.
They don’t know the first thing about design, have no clue of what works and what doesn’t and frankly probably couldn’t give any useful criticism. This really seems like the last place you would want to find any sort of feedback for your design but you would be surprised! I find that people with no knowledge of any sort about design are usually the best sources for feedback. The key here is to ask the right questions; keep them vague and indirectly encourage them to look deeper into the design without making them feel like they have to critique fine art. Use your questions to help them identify things they usually wouldn’t look at, without influencing their opinion. Sometimes you’ll find that the responses you get may require a bit of deciphering to fully understand their feedback, but I feel like they are the best source for honest and unbiased feedback. Their first impressions are usually the best response you will get.
The Know it all
You’ll spot them immediately. Usually a non-designer, The Know It All will always know more than you! Or at least that’s how it will feel. They will have plenty to say, some of the ideas will probably sound silly, but their conviction and confidence could make any seasoned designer second guess themselves. Unlike The Praiser, they will point out and offer critique on A LOT of things. Try to identify the common factors in what they are spotting. Find the similarities in their critique. Generally they will have an unintentional underlying focus that can be extracted, offering some valuable feedback. Keep in mind, The Know It All gets satisfaction from being right more so than offering constructive criticism. Tread lightly as your time spent with them could end up being counterproductive.
The Other Designer
This can be a tricky conversation. The other designer will more than likely be compelled to tell you how to improve the design before they confirm what is or isn’t working. While very similar to “The Know it All”, The Other Designer’s feedback will be informative and contribute in a greater way. The goal with the other designer is to embrace the challenge of exploring your design in and out. Finding what truly is working on a fundamental level and what needs attention. While having this conversation, it is important to remember why you made certain decisions during the creation of your design and trust yourself, but also have the ability to be flexible and allow criticism that can potentially refine your ideas for the better.
You may already know them before you start your conversation with them. These are the individuals who will, at the cost of design, suggest or even demand changes that will encourage sales over presentation. This conversation is an important one to have. While no one side is right or wrong, there are points to be made for presentation versus sales message in a design. As designers, we sometimes place a strong focus on making something look amazing and forget to make sure that something also conveys our message clearly. This is a great opportunity to get some perspective on your design. While some of the Marketers recommendations may not make much design sense, at its core there lies some insight that could ultimately help the functionality of your design. While the suggestion to make something bolder or brighter may seem like a terrible idea, it does shed some light on the possibility that a design element is not doing it’s job properly. Approach these conversations with your defenses down, stay grounded and make sure to keep notes.
Their first impression could be everyone’s first impression.
When asking for a second opinion on your design, you are bound to run into more characters other than those mentioned here. No matter who you ask, keep in mind that their first impressions are extremely valuable. The first impression can sometimes tell you more about the state of your design than a full depth conversion. When receiving feedback, consider the initial responses in an unbiased fashion, make note of them. These collected impressions can give you an idea of how the world will potentially receive your design at a first glance. Use this valuable information as a guide, but keep grounded with your initial ideas and trust your design judgment.