Communication Judo

The Web Designer’s Dilemma

Being a web designer can be a tough gig.

In some circles the craft of designing websites has been undervalued by sites such as Elance where websites can be had for $199 designed by offshore talent. Free WordPress templates and website template websites such as give the perception that just anyone can design a good website. Of those companies that do turn to a qualified web designer, the web design process can be demotivating to put it lightly. Some stakeholders assume since they surf the web frequently it qualifies them to have an expert opinion on how a website should be designed.

On the other side of the coin, great design can set your website and business apart. Just ask Pinterest &AirBnB where their business has thrived because of exceptional user experience and design. The multitude of cookie-cutter websites makes any stellar effort standout. Good design; functional and aesthetic is an important element of any successful digital marketing plan. The trouble with “good design” is that it’s tough to quantify. As digital marketing becomes more measurable, measuring good design is still not so easy, and quite subjective.

Approval of a newly designed website is at times at the mercy of the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) and not by a savvy stakeholder. Not every organization is blessed with a Creative Director with enough clout to push through great designs and interfaces that meets both aesthetic best practices and business needs.

What is a web designer to do???

In order to become a successful designer who can push their designs through approval checks, you have to get better at persuasive speech or what I humorously call Communication Judo.


Communication Judo – “The gentle yet persuasive communication method of listening and responding constructively with the goal of convincing business stakeholders to see the value in your proposed solution.”


Tips to Get Your Web Designs Approved

Often all the effort is poured into the design but the pitch or communication process to get the design approved is an afterthought. The following are a few bits of advice on how to get your designs approved, and coincidentally minimize the frustration of the approval process.

1. Separate Approvals for Wireframes & Mockups

Rookies fall into the trap of creating the user experience and visual aesthetics of  a website in one deliverable. With this faulty process the design is  presented to stakeholders for approval, as a result the designer will receive feedback on both the functional as well as design aspects of their work, leaving the designer frustrated. The best way to avoid this mess is to structure the design process into two stages; wireframing & mockups.

Sounds simple right? But so often this rule gets broken. Separate function from aesthetics. Have everyone agree first and foremost about the overall user experience through wireframes. Once that is approved, then begin the mockup phase where you apply your design. This ensures that your audience focuses on the elements you want them to focus on during each phase of the process.


2. Support Your Designs with Evidence, Customer Feedback & Data

Business stakeholders at the core can distill their interests into two categories; risks & opportunity.

  • Is there a possibility that this design will negatively impact our interests? (e.g. conversions, sales)
  • What is the upside of having a better design? (e.g. how much will this design increase conversions, sales)

By coming prepared to the discussion with evidence such as web metrics, voice of customer survey feedback or usage based evidence such as heat-mapping tools like ClickTale or CrazyEgg it will address or alleviate the underlying concern of potential risk or opportunity.

By having this data in hand you can convey to your stakeholders why the previous design was broken as well as what worked. Therefore you have the evidence to support your current designs and why you chose a certain direction.


3. Become a Storyteller

Let’s face it, at times business stakeholders take the craft of web design for granted. They don’t understand the work involved to come up with the final mockups you are putting out there for everyone’s approval. You as a designer need to take the business stakeholder by the hand and go through step by step as to how you arrived at the final design. Some questions you will need to answer in your story will be things such as:

  • The discovery process and how you conducted research before applying a single pixel.
  • Why you chose a particular format or framework.
  • How the website stacks up to similar websites and competitors and why your designs are better.
  • Walking through the user journey and what your customers will experience.

You will have to wow your stakeholders so they can appreciate all the work that went into the final design.


4. Present, Present, Present

Dust off your public speaking skills because you are going to need to get in front of an audience to get your work properly considered.

Approval via email is shortsighted for significant design projects. You need to gather the folks who will be evaluating your work into a room and pitch your design to them. Email is a poor  communication tool for this type of work.

Meet your audience and tell them the story in person.


5. Be Present for the Pitch to the Final Decision Maker

Within larger organizations, at times there are several layers of approval. As great as it is to have someone else take your work and “sell” it to the final decision maker; perhaps a Director or VP, there is no substitute for being present to champion and potentially defend your creative direction.


Overall the true secret to winning over that business person to approve your design is to come prepared and be ready to view the process from their perspective. In the end it’s about aligning customer needs with business needs all wrapped up in your creative direction. By doing your homework and speaking in the language that your business stakeholders can appreciate you have a good chance of winning them over.

Hey there, I'm Marc!

I'm the Director of Growth Channels @Hootsuite. I've worked in digital marketing since 2000 for agencies, startups and companies like Electronic Arts & SAP. Thanks for checking out my site where I share digital marketing strategies on how to increase website traffic and generate more revenue.

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