In terms of aesthetics, design is by and large a tool to convey a message to your users. Are you a large company? Are you professional? Do you have a sense of humor? Or simply (and most importantly), “What is it that you do?” These are all questions that will be answered for your users in fewer than 5 seconds of viewing your website, so it’s important you’re sending the right message. Just because you’re a small company doesn’t mean your site needs to be presented as such. There are several steps you can take to assure yourself that you’ll end up with a top-notch website design:
1. Understand your users.
It’s important to understand your users and their expectations. This is usually accomplished via experience in any given field; alternatively, market research can supply you with the answers you need if you’re relatively new in your industry.
2. Inform your designer of problems in your design; avoid supplying him or her with solutions.
When I design a site for a client, I’m inevitably supplied with a solution. You should let your designer know of the problem you’re having rather than give him or her a solution. For example, I might be told to remove the blue background and replace it with a pink background. What the client should really say here is that the site needs to look more feminine (assuming that’s the problem). There are many alternative remedies for this other than the most obvious (making the entire background pink).
3. Leave your (personal) tastes at the door.*
If your website isn’t for personal branding, it’s important to try to avoid seeking designs that satisfy your personal tastes over the tastes and needs of your users and your business. If you have an idea you think would be great or if you see something you hate, it’s best to gather opinions from several other people before getting your heart set on it. Designers hear ideas all the time; many ideas that are new to clients fall cliché to the ears of designers. Often times, we know something will not work based on the fact that we’ve already tried it in the past.
4. Don’t be afraid of change.
If your business has never had any professional marketing or branding consultation, it’s usually best to let go of any de facto branding you might have and let professional designers guide you to something more appropriate.
5. Talk to your designer.
It's important to keep an open line of communication and to express your concerns. As designers, we love input and ideas from our clients and anyone else who has the patience to look at our work. We especially love well thought out ideas rather than ideas that are seemingly arbitrary. The biggest mistake clients make is dictating the design before discussing their options with their designer, this approach will result in a failed design. After all, you are paying someone for their expertise in design, it doesn't make sense to try to take on the role of designer.
If you have an idea or concern, discuss it with your designer. A good designer will give you feedback and will supply a solution or solution(s).
*Be aware, there is a gray area; you need to be happy with your final design. Just because your design was not dictated by your personal taste, doesn’t mean you have to accept whatever you receive in terms of design.
Your personal taste will have an effect on the site’s outcome - that’s ok (sometimes it can even work in your favor). What you want to avoid is having your design dictated and possibly hindered by your personal taste, rather than what’s best for your company, brand, and/or users.
If you take nothing else from this, remember: Problems, not solutions.