Viget works with a wide variety of clients with varying depths of web knowledge. Some simply have a business plan based on a strong idea, while others have designed, built, or maintained sites themselves. Regardless of this level of understanding, there's one thing we all "opinionate" and iterate on — the look of the site. Aesthetic is typically unique in that all of the stakeholders in the project can and want to have input. After all, if we can see, we tend to have preferences for colors, layout, photo selection, font styles, etc. So the visual design of sites is typically an iterative dance between the subjective opinions of those involved, the established goals of the site, and the more objective "rules" of good web design. Hopefully, the client is involved in or aware of all of the planning (sitemapping, wireframing, defining of audiences and actions) before the look is ever approached. Occasionally, even when they are involved in the planning, clients lean toward an unproductive and over-iterative focus on aesthetic. Many times, this is simply because we as designers allow the client to see visual decisions as a separate "phase" of the project, and they unconsciously become detached from the rest of the site goals for a short time. So, a simple suggestion to keep a healthy, balanced perspective toward aesthetic — at the beginning of any visual evaluation (competitor site reviews, mood boards, comps), simply take two minutes to clarify with the client that visual design is much more than preferences/decisions on color, photos, and layout. Remind her that visual direction must always be evaluated in the light of:
Users/Actions How will intended users perceive this design? Are the actions they're meant to take apparent?
Aesthetic How does it look? What feeling does it evoke? Are colors/fonts used appropriately? How is the brand being used/reflected?
Content/Data What information are we offering through this design? What are we collecting? Are the content areas being given proper design attention and priority?
Functionality Is the content/data/technology that we have available being leveraged to create appropriate and interesting features?
Usability How easy or hard is it to use the page/site? Is the content visually prioritized, is it easy to find, and is the user effortlessly able to take intended actions? Is usability suffering because of other poor decisions? These simple ground rules for evaluating the look of a site tend to get everyone more healthily engaged in making design decisions. Decrease subjectivity and iterations, increase objectivity and communication, and maintain focus on the larger site goals.