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Website Production
February 17, 2015

How to Avoid the Digital Frankenstein Monster

Has your website become a Frankenstein-like monster of mixed ideas? If so, you're not alone - this is a common problem. Here are some tips on how to avoid it.

The Birth of the Monster

The problem starts with the common practice of asking to see multiple concepts during the design phase of a project.

On paper, this may sound like a good idea, owners who can review multiple options feel like they have more control over the direction of their sites and staying in control of its development is often a priority.

The problem however when you're working with a professional web designer, the samples they present to you will almost certainly be good ones and you're going to start looking between them, picking out the elements you like best. "I like the header on this one, I like that front-page on that one and this shopping cart design over here seems good..."

However, designs don’t work like that. Every design is a story on its own and you can't combine two or three different stories into one. Mixing and matching components from different concepts like this is what leads to a Frankenstein design.

The Need for Coherence

The fact is, it's rarely possible to combine elements from two or more designs and end up with a sensible-looking site. Rather, the whole site needs to have a clear and consistent design direction from the start. Anything less will look unprofessional, out of place and ultimately discouraging or confusing to any customers who are interested in buying what you have to sell.

The process is similar to deciding things by committee. Sure, you could end up with an intelligent, well-written statement about something, but it's far more likely that the only thing you'll receive is a generic piece of feel-good fluff. Trying to combine too many ideas together - regardless of how good they are individually - does not work.

There is a better way to have control over direction.

How to Avoid the Monster

  • First, decide how you're going to work with your designer.

    - We've found that the best methodology is for the designer to present one well thought-out and developed concept. At this point, you can either reject it outright and ask to see another concept based on detailed feedback, or you can approve it with the view of further developing the parts you're not fully satisfied with.

    - Alternatively, work closely with the designer from the start and collaborate as the product is built. Your influence on the early design decisions will give you an added level of control and the designer will be able to develop the rest of the site as you go along to end up with a product that you’re fully satisfied with.

  • Once you have a design, show it to someone who wasn't involved in the design process (if you can get an actual client or customer that’s great) and ask them to describe their journey while you give them tasks. For example, ask them to give their first impression of the homepage, then ask them to navigate to a particular product or page.Too much familiarity can make it easy to overlook real problems in a design, so a fresh perspective - which is exactly what your customers will have - can help you catch any lingering issues.

  • If your review process suggests that some changes are necessary, avoid the late birth of a monster by not suggesting a solution but instead, go back to your designer and explain what the problem is. Then let them figure out how to solve it, they are the experts.

The key is clear communication. That said, working with designers can be a bit tricky as they can be a touchy lot. Here’s a great post on InVision’s blog about How to Give Designers Better Feedback.

So what do you think? Any other ideas about how to avoid a Frankenstein design? Have you ever faced this problem?

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