As a veteran of the industry, I’m still amazed at the pace of change. The advent of responsive web design changed all the rules. In the old days, we’d spend weeks toiling over fixed-width, pixel-perfect page comps (sometimes three unique variations) to gain approval on the visual direction and allow a project to move forward.
Let’s face it, everyone’s excited—and in a hurry—to see how the site will look and feel. Trouble is, there are plenty of steps that precede this one in a solid workflow.
In response to this nagging cart-before-the-horse dilemma, we’ve incorporated into our process the aptly named Visual Inventory. By creating an honest dialogue with clients early in the process and asking tons of high-level, visually based questions, we uncover valuable input that helps to answer that monumental question: “What should the new site look like?”—and more importantly, how should it feel?
At our studio, we use a simple Keynote presentation as a catalyst to promote discussion with clients about how they see their brand being communicated on the web. What style aspects are worth (and not worth) aligning to? Which are the most appropriate (and not appropriate at all)?
While a visual inventory can be useful at any phase of the project, we find it especially helpful to conduct as a kickoff to the style exploration phase. By comparing curated samples from the web and weighing each against the design principles we’ve established for the project, we gain the clarity that enables us to focus our creative efforts. We can immediately home in on approaches that resonate with our client’s vision and goals.
The categories we like to include in this exercise are—at minimum—typography and color scheme. However, for more robust groups, it may make sense to conduct inventories that include aspects such as positioning, tone, and motion.
When it comes to establishing style, the ability to quickly dismiss approaches that don’t resonate well with our client is equally (if not more) valuable.
All the Feels
For us, the exercise works best if we compare several very distinct approaches, making sure there’s significant contrast between them. If the options are too similar, we tend not to know how far on the spectrum an organization is willing to go.
We want to elicit feedback about the feeling and character of each example. This is the time for honest, gut reactions. We love to hear things like “I like it, but it just doesn’t feel like ‘us’,” or “Although we favor a clean aesthetic, this example feels too cold.” Teasing out the likes and dislikes, and starting a true collaborative dialogue is the goal of this exercise.
We include key questions on a slide outlining each approach, along with a list of design goals (previously set for the project) that align with that particular approach. When it comes to establishing style, the ability to quickly dismiss approaches that don’t resonate well with our client is equally (if not more) valuable.
Fueled by the excitement we feel at the onset of the project and armed with the knowledge we’ve gained from this key exercise, we feel confident moving to the next phase of our process: the Element Collage.
We’ve been super happy with the results of employing visual inventories. The efficiency and cost-saving benefits—both to our design team and client teams—are countless, making this an indispensable part of our workflow.
Try conducting one on your next project. We’re certain you’ll be hooked!