Joe Dawson

Joe is the director of Creative.onl and oversees all of the design and technical work that we produce. Find him on Twitter.

You may well be initially delighted with the visual creativity of your graphic designer, but is their work aligned to your broader digital strategy and does it work for your customers? 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that great web design or brilliant new app development (or even a glossy brochure) is all about the visuals. You may believe that you can get away with just a bunch of stunning images, modern layouts and exciting fonts. 

But while the end product can look great on your desktop, how well does it actually work for your customer? 

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Can they find what they are looking for? How easy is it to buy your product or hire your service? Is your design putting obstacles in the way of customers? Do visitors leave fully satisfied and loyal to your brand or are they lukewarm about your site? 

Here are some important statistics that highlight how both graphic design and website/app usability are equally important. It’s been reported that:

  • 38% of people are likely to stop viewing a website if it is unattractive. 
  • Nearly half of people think good website design is a factor in brand credibility. 
  • 39% of people will stop engaging with your website if it takes too long to download. 
  • If your company website doesn’t work well on smartphones, 48% of consumers are likely to see this as a clear sign that you don’t care. 

What all this means is that your graphic design doesn’t just need to be creative, it must have a large strategic element as well. Designers themselves need to understand what you are trying to achieve and to be able to focus on the user experience, not just how flashy or modern the website looks. 

If you are currently interviewing graphic designers to work with your business to help create an all-singing all-dancing website or app, here are three warning signs that show they may just lack the strategic approach you really need. 

1. They base design decisions on what looks good

Let’s start with the fact that the look and aesthetic of your website are important. This has always been true and won’t change. What is important, however, is the way in which design choices fit with achieving your strategic objectives. 

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This can be a fine balancing act but, if you’re simply basing design decisions on what looks good, your website is going to lack the power it needs. 

A simple mistake from a design point of view is having images that take too long to download. If you have a super fast connection, this isn’t a problem as a user. If your connection is much slower, however, it can lead to frustration and disengagement with the site you’re trying to explore.

Another mistake is putting too many hurdles in the way. If it’s complicated for you as a customer to get to the end of the sales funnel, you’re more likely to give up than buy a product or service. 

Design decisions that match the strategic goals of your business are integral if you’re to end up with a product that works for consumers and provides them with everything they are looking for. If your graphic designer doesn’t reference your design system and understand your customers needs, for example, then the result is going to be superficially elegant but will lack functionality. 

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Graphic designer Steven Heller, author of Design Cult, sums it up perfectly:

“Do you make things look nice? Do you spend more time worrying about nuance and aesthetic than substance and meaning? Do you fiddle with style while ignoring the big picture? If your answers are yes, yes, or yes, you are a decorator.”

2. They don’t challenge your input

Graphic designers that simply do what you want, whenever you ask, should be a huge worry. Why? They’re simply trying to please and get their fee rather than helping you produce a web site or app that actually fits your needs. It is also a sign that they aren’t as professionally qualified as they profess to be.

As a client, you’re likely to want at least some changes to a piece of design work and you may have very clear ideas about what the end product should look like. A great graphic designer is going to listen to your concerns and needs, of course, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t challenge these ideas. 

This is a two-way conversation and you need to be flexible and listen as well as hope that your graphic designer will do the same. It’s easier to maintain an open mind when you are communicating well and both sides are working towards the same input. 

See also →  How to define the objectives of your digital strategy

Don’t settle for a graphic designer who is essentially a ‘yes’ person and actually expect to be challenged on your own views. Bear this in mind and you’re more likely to end up with an website that really hits the mark.  

3. Their design vocabulary is style-centred rather than people-centred

Old school graphic designers sometimes don’t even know how to talk about graphic design within a digital context, so usability isn’t even on their radar. Even recently trained graphic designers can fall into the trap of simply being focused on style rather than function. 

If all your graphic designer is talking about are style issues, it should raise warning signs. Their vocabulary should include things like user experience or UX, they should focus on your marketing plan and understand the audience you are trying to connect with. They should also be focused on issues such as mobile readiness and how to improve the journey of your customers through the sales funnel. 

Their style and design choices should be helping to achieve these critical aims and shouldn’t just be about looking good on a screen. User experience has now merged into graphic design in such a way that neither can exist without the other. UX is all about drilling down into the users wants and needs and it can have a profound and positive influence on the design of a website, app or other digital product. 

Ten years ago, graphic design was a much simpler profession and it was relatively easy to find someone with the skills that could benefit your business. Today, things are a lot more complex mainly because our level of understanding has improved dramatically, particularly in respect of customer behaviour. 

Finding the right graphic designer to work with your business is not something you should take lightly. The combination of creativity, design strategy and how these meet your audience’s needs as well as your business goals are all vitally important. 

If you are searching for a graphic designer can work closely with your business and deliver a digital presence that really stands out and is fit for purpose, contact us today to find out how we can help. 

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