Getting rid of design guesswork

Creativity breathes life into successful websites. However, creative ideas and solutions are often like guessing – a dangerous business, I tell you. So what can designers do to convince a client of their obsession with the best intentions, and in their decisions, that they are rock hard? The following exercises will help build a real dialogue with the customer and teach how to document it, and the client himself will remove the veil of fear of creativity and get involved in the process of creating his website.

Set clear goals

Some people feel like they know why a website is needed and they are fighting for the right to formulate clear and measurable goals. Ambiguous goals force a person to guess, and assumptions can lead to frustration. Goals like “sell more of our products” or “become more popular” are blurred and go nowhere.

The modified acceptance criteria exercise is the simplest and most effective exercise I know of. It will teach us goal setting. Nimble developers from different fields use it to show why to solve a given problem and how it fits into the big picture of the case. A couple of changes and an exercise suitable for goal setting in site building:

Request example:

* We will redesign the site, because we need more traffic and a new look, and we want to become more respected in the market.

An example of a query building scheme:

* We want ______ because ________ to _________.

An example of relevant goals:

*We want increase site traffic by 20%, because we need more attention from potential customersso that attract at least 8 contacts with clients per month
*We need change the appearance of the site to a more modern one, because we should better meet the needs of consumersso that increase sales by 10%.
*We want write four articles about our industry per month, because what we want to help our market, with the aim of formation of at least two partners per month

Notice how the semantic separation of “means”, “meaning” and “future outcome” outlines the client’s goals and describes why he wants to do it and how he will achieve it. Design acceptance criteria are a great way to wash out unnecessary deep, perhaps even unknown intentions, which will help the designer and the client see the right decisions and avoid surprises in the future. Reconsider goals until all the important people (who make the decisions) understand and agree with them.

Bonus: Formulate a few goals to see which ones are secondary and tertiary, but don’t overdo it – no site can address multiple overriding goals.

Organize pages

People are hungry for sites that help solve problems without too much mental difficulty. The user should spend their mental energy on solving their problems, and not figuring out how the site works.

Sorting cards is a great way to organize your site. Write a list of all pages on the site and write their titles on the cards, then lay the cards on the table. Move them back and forth until you have the most comprehensible diagram of all sections and their subsections.

If you do not have the opportunity to do this yourself or your team does not have time to move the cards across the tables all together, then try to do it with your colleagues online, filling out the table. Here is an example of the work of some craftsmen for the website of a New Zealand investment company (figures are invented), made in Google Docs:

Google docs

An example of sorting a site using a table.

If you are currently engaged in redesign, then take the time to ask the website’s webmaster about traffic: which pages are the most visited and which are the least? This is a great opportunity to evaluate the quality of the content of the website pages and their presentation to the visitor. Then trim and merge similar pages, separate complex ones from them, and simplify.

Even after the usual site design, a card sorting exercise can dramatically increase the usability and performance of a site. This move can be practiced to keep your site useful to your visitors. I invite the reader to familiarize yourself with other ways to perform card sorting on a site and invite you to read the Boxes and Arrows’ card sorting guide,’s card sorting article, or even read a whole book on card sorting.

Bonus: An interesting trick is to do card sorting with a person who does not know anything about the ordering company. This way you can get unexpected recommendations and avoid bias.

Distribute information on the page

Next step: we need to understand the visual hierarchy of information on the page. Let’s turn to the distribution of attention – I call it the “attention map” – and to the simplest arithmetic.

An attention map is a set of goals for a particular page; each target has a certain number of points. Assign the total number of points necessary for a good distribution of information on this page, but do not overdo it, otherwise you can screw up and evaluate information of different levels equally. The point is to divide all information into blocks according to the criterion of value-importance relative to each other and build a clear hierarchy.

An example of scoring:

  • Fifteen points for four targets.

Result example:

  • Description of services: 7 points
  • Benefit from use: 4 points
  • Market articles in general: 2 points
  • Related news: 2 points

The visual “attention map” itself is more effective than just a list of points distribution, since it allows you to allocate space for information on the site page. We assigned the “description of services” as much as seven points, which is three more than the “advantages” of the product, which means that the site needs to pay special attention to the “description”.

Use an attention map to assign importance and place a block of information to it.

The general schematic representation of ways to achieve goals, the organization of the pages and the “attention map” should be the leading tactical moves for you.

Bonus: If you have finished arranging information, then rotate your diagram or mirror it and make sure that the meaning of the content is not lost. Criticism of your own work, including the unusual mirror technique, can lead to many new ideas.

Develop personality

A strong archetype can create the strongest momentary emotional attachment. Archetype[4] it is a set of characteristics and special traits common to a certain group of people speaking any language and any nationality living on Earth. Each archetype has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own fears and abilities. By applying these aspects of personality to design, people will sensually identify with it (with the design). This creates a memorable image and builds trust.

In The Hero and the Outlaw, authors Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson capture 12 archetypes that reflect almost every manifestation of human nature:


  • St
  • Researcher
  • Sage
  • Hero
  • Outlaw or outlaw
  • Magician
  • Ordinary guy / ordinary girl
  • Lover
  • Joker
  • Nurse
  • Creator
  • Ruler

If you choose an outcast (immediately remembering Harley Davidson), then start criticizing everything that would be disgusting to a person with truly untamed morals and principles. You may be surprised by the number of new ideas that can be obtained by thinking about:

Ideas of an untamed person outside the law:

  • He wants to take revenge or immediately start a revolution
  • Wants to break anything that doesn’t work
  • Hates powerlessness and triviality
  • Tries to shock people
  • Hopes to grant everyone radical freedom
  • Perceived as evil
  • Most likely to become a criminal

If you manage to keep these traits and apply them to different designs, then don’t forget to use them in any other products and campaigns that involve human interaction. This will create a very strong brand.

Bonus: People often confuse the personality of their company with their own. Identify the archetype of the firm’s chief executive and other key figures to separate them from the personality of the company.

Define what you want and finish

Site design features directly support and enhance the content. Unfortunately, all the richness of the selected personalization features is sometimes very difficult to “squeeze” into a visual design that will be understood by a large audience. You should have in your arsenal groups of traits opposite to each other in order to make the necessary ones visible. This will help clarify the given appearance of the design and create criteria for evaluating the given design if presented to anyone.

Here’s a trick to help us. We take opposing traits that will particularly influence design, and place them on sliding scales, such as:

An example of sliding weights to identify opposing design features.

With these weights, the designer can get a real understanding of how exactly the site should affect the visitor’s feelings. If a designer’s understanding of the word “lively” is too strong, then others will be able to understand it when the designer places his understanding “lively” on the above scales, and colleagues can adapt. This will help create really constructive debates, rather than just “I think you’re going overboard…”.

Add or remove sections in the scale, modify the scale, but remember that the content must be measurable. Here’s an example: such a site design feature as “high-tech” is too dependent on the preferences of the designer. In a general sense, a particular high-tech trait will be a combination of the concepts of “modern”, “simple” and “formal” – which can be easily placed on the scales and used in discussions among people who are just weak in design.

Bonus: After the end of the project, identify the set of personality traits that had a particularly strong impact on the success of the project, and think about what traits were not invested in it, but wanted.

Build with confidence

A clear and understandable presentation of the goals, organization of the site, the location of the material on the page, the individuality of the site will create a working atmosphere in which you (and the customer) can rely on clear and documented ideas. Together with the customer, you will create an error-free work front, targeted research; avoid unnecessary hopes and ultimately build a good design.

Author: Daniel Ritzenthaler, original article here.
Transfer: Rekhimkulov Rinat, [email protected]

PS Thanks to Rinat for another good translation of a useful article. In theory, design materials are not so easy to read, but they contain a useful set of knowledge that will help you avoid many mistakes in your work and approach the creation of a project professionally and correctly.

PPS Sentry. Answers to life questions –

Author: Clark Douglas

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