My Purpose for the Alignment Session
Prior to commencing design work for the client (today), I wanted to solidify my understanding of the new brand, and to get a steer on the design direction. How could we imagine this brand coming across through logo, colour, message, tone of voice etc.?
This client is represented by a three-person leadership team, none of whom I’ve worked with before, and I was aware from our previous meetings that they were three strong personalities with their own tastes and opinions.
My spider sense told me it would be important to start off in approximately the right direction, to avoid having to bin two or three design concepts (which I used to do a while ago, but tend to shoot for the three-pointer every time today, and more often than not get it).
I’d already been reviewing the competitive landscape, so it was simple to take screengrabs of their competitors’ web site home pages. I thought we could simply look through these screenshots and discuss what stood out as strong or weak.
What I Prepared for the Session
As the top competitors (assessed by Google ranking) were pretty weak, I thought we’d come out with more examples of what not to do than positive direction, so I added a couple of dozen alternative web site screenshots. These were generally sites that I felt have strong design aesthetics, combining clear communication with bold identities.
Finally, I gathered a set of 36 logos (some designed by us, but mostly other logos I like) for discussion.
Overall, the preparation for this session took just a couple of hours.
Surprisingly Useful Results
The refining of the brand characteristics was pretty quick, as I expected. We already knew our strengths pretty well, and what the market needs.
So we moved on to the competition, which we all agreed was pretty weak. To clarify, the direct competitors were quite feeble. This client designs and builds high-quality exhibition stands, and provides an excellent, thorough service, always going the extra mile to make sure their clients feel fully supported and able to concentrate on their own business.
Show the End Result ("What do I get?")
The main insight from looking at the competition was realising that quality photos of real stands in action was key. Computer-generated images weren’t credible, as they didn’t prove you’d ever made the stand. Neither were catalogue images of how stands might look.
What grabbed our attention most was seeing stands with people in them, preferably a crowd of people!
What we wanted to see was the end result of the process. Looking at these sites through the eyes of a potential client, the most credible ones were the ones that showed clearly the final benefit, which in this case is "a busy stand at an exhibition"!
Sure, it’s great to show a shiny, gorgeous stand on the night before the expo starts, but that’s not the most important thing to a client. Their success is dependent on their stand working, attracting a horde of visitors on the day. A great stand designer is one that can deliver that service. In fact, that’s what our client does really well – understanding the psychology of the exhibition punter and how to design stands that draw them in and keep their attention long enough to get a message across.
Never Assume Anything!
The process of looking through the other cool sites and logos was even more revealing for me.
The sites that I thought looked great – you know, the really modern ones that look ever so "now" to a professional web designer, the ones you coo over at the CSS galleries – didn’t float at all with the client.
There were several designs I put in thinking, "They’ll definitely get a kick out of this type treatment or that colour combo", only for the clients to sit there and go "Hate it, move on".
Going over these 25 designs gave me a huge head start on the design process I’m about to start, cutting out maybe 90% of the directions I might have taken today.
There’s no point producing something that you think works, if your client’s going to hate it. And no matter how much we might wish otherwise, when they pay the bill, they do need to like the result. I know that, sometimes, a plain, boring, ugly site can actually be more effective than a cutesy one. But people aren’t coming to me for an ugly site. They’re spending their cash to get something they like.
Just by following a simple process of showing stuff, letting people talk about how the assets impact them, taking plenty of notes, and refining through a few intelligent questions, I’ve saved myself possibly 2-3 days of misguided design time. Cost: 4 hours.
It’s certainly a process I’ll be following again. And next time, it will take a fraction of the time to prepare the presentation.