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Choosing a Website Design Direction: Tips & Strategies for Getting it ‘Right’

When embarking on a large website redesign project, choosing the ‘right’ design direction can be a daunting task. As a marketing and communications leader, you understand the importance of making informed, strategic decisions that align with your institution’s brand and goals – but what happens when you are faced with a design decision where success seems subjective?

Based on our years of experience guiding institutions through complex website redesigns, we have arranged some tips and strategies to help you navigate this critical phase and make the right choice for your website redesign.

Presenting Three Distinctive Design Directions

In our approach, we typically deliver three distinctive design directions, each informed by your brand heritage, visual brand language and personality, our comprehensive discovery process, and various inputs. We present these designs in both mobile-first and desktop formats, ensuring they are flexible, dynamic, and can be interchanged site-wide like a set of LEGO building blocks.

A screenshot of the Muhlenberg College website: A Community that Supports Your

Our experience demonstrates that the most effective sites are built ‘brick-by-brick’ with strong components that can be flexibly utilized across the site, like the example above from Muhlenberg.edu.

If we at ERI deliver on our commitment to excellence, choosing the ‘right’ design option will be a near impossible task: each of the three concepts will stand firmly on its own two feet, offering unique yet viable options for your website redesign. Making a decision between them and committing to a chosen design direction, however, can be downright challenging. Here are a few tips and strategies to consider:

1. Avoid ‘Design by Committee’ – Trust the Process

Design by committee can lead to watered-down decisions that fail to capture the essence of any one vision. Instead, trust the process and the expertise of the design team.

When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, the flavor of the dish may fail to pack a punch since everyone’s tastes are different. To deliver a signature dish, the expertise of a few ensures 1) the dish preserves its unique flavor, and 2) the kitchen remains efficient.

So too is it with choosing a design direction. It’s important to trust the process so as to capture the essence of the design team’s vision. While it’s important to gather input from key stakeholders, too many voices can create confusion and hinder progress

2. Be the Experts – Articulate Your Preferences

Institutional leadership and key stakeholders leading the project should be given the opportunity to articulate their preferences. This is your chance to be the experts on your brand and vision. Clear, decisive feedback is invaluable to the design team and helps ensure the final product aligns with your goals.

3. Ask the Right Questions

When evaluating design concepts, ask yourself the following questions to ensure they represent a significant step forward in critical areas:

  • First Impression / Overall Impact: Does the design create a strong, positive first impression? Is it visually impactful and engaging?
  • Ease of Navigation / Site Architecture: Although it can be challenging to ascertain in a flat concept, does the design suggest a user-friendly navigation structure?
  • Quality of Visual Assets: Are the visual elements high quality and reflective of your brand? Even in flat concepts, consider how the visuals contribute to the overall aesthetic.
  • Brand Emulation & Storytelling: Does the design effectively emulate your brand and tell your institution’s story? Is it authentic and compelling?

Collecting Feedback from Key Stakeholders

Gathering feedback from stakeholders is crucial in a website redesign project, but the final decision should rest with the core project team. Here’s how to effectively collect input without undermining the team’s expertise:

Gather Impressions, Not Votes

While it’s important to hear from stakeholders, their input should serve as data points that help inform (rather than dictate) a final decision.

    • Focused Sessions: Hold brief meetings to discuss specific aspects of each design direction.
    • Clear Questions: Ask about visual impact, navigation ease, and brand alignment.
    • Collect Preferences: Use the feedback to understand preferences and impressions.
  • Mobile First: Be sure to review concepts on mobile devices as well to get a true sense of operability, look and feel.

[Quote block: We’ve seen all the models of decision-making on designs in action – from a president making the instinctive judgment to a full on group vote. We believe the answer lies somewhere in-between.

Trust the Core Project Team

The core project team has the expertise to make the final call.

  • Professional Judgment: Rely on the team’s professional judgment to synthesize feedback and make informed choices.
  • Nuanced Decisions: Understand that the team can balance various factors and insights to select the best direction.

However, if you feel truly stuck, your agency partner is here to help; draw on their aid to guide the decision-making process. Afterall, sometimes there are wild and out-of-the-box ideas that require an outside eye to see the vision for a final product that is future-forward.

Interactive Workshops and Reviews

Engage stakeholders through interactive sessions to gather real-time feedback.

  • Workshops: Host sessions where stakeholders can interact with design concepts and provide immediate feedback.
  • Iterative Reviews: Regularly update stakeholders on how their feedback has been incorporated to build trust and refine the designs.

Feedback from stakeholders is valuable, but the final decision should be made by the core project team. Trust in their expertise and the thorough discovery process to ensure an elevated digital presence.

Conclusion: No ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’ – Any Direction Will Work

Ultimately, remember that there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice. Each design direction is crafted to be a viable option, and any of them can work for your institution. The key is to commit to a direction that will most confidently reflect your goals, resonate with your audience, and support your brand story.

By trusting the process, articulating your preferences, asking the right questions, and using research-tested strategies to collect feedback, you can confidently select a design direction that will set your website up for success as your digital doorstep to the world.


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