How do you tell your team their "strategy" is outdated?

Hey guys,

That title is a little dramatic but here’s my question. I recently got hired to a team that is working on the design/development of a website. I was hired as a wordpress developer, but my main focus has been design over the past couple of years, with the last 10 or so months having experience developing a handful of wordpress sites.

The website I got hired to work on currently displays a design which was created and developed by a computer science graduate student. It does not look excellent, and no one expects it to, but on top of that, he was given no real guidance. No content strategy. No real knowledge of web design standards, etc.

I attended the first meeting today and I don’t think the designer has had much experience. He is a graphic design student and he means well but he just doesn’t know a lot of the basic fundamentals of designing a site. I had to explain to him what web-safe fonts were. He wasn’t sure how to change the color of something that should have been an easy adjustment layer fix in like 20 seconds. The kerning and leading was inconsistent and off, padding was inconsistent, there were large blocks of text in the header above the navigation (it was inappropriate for the type of site we’re working on.) These things aren’t necessarily bad, as we all have to start somewhere, but he was hired on as the designer.

This is a forward-facing site meant to attract advertisers who will spend money to acquire research we are doing on the youth and college demographic.

He showed the designs today and the couple of people calling the shots were kind of eating it up. Keep in mind I’m not calling the individual a bad designer, but the design was very inappropriate and outdated for what we are trying to do which is convey freshness, youth, advertise to advertisers. And the individual simply didn’t live in the web world, he hasn’t acquired the knowledge to make these observations just yet. That’s completely fine.

So here is my question. How do I criticize this work without sounding like an *******?! All of the things I just said is what I wanted to say when we were in the meeting, but clearly it sounded like the verbage of an *******. I have no idea what to do. What would you do? Also I was hired on as primarily a wordpress developer with design knowledge and the ability to learn Drupal programming, so I don’t think they really see me as a designer. I really like all of the people I’m working with as people, they’re super nice and supportive, easy to get ahold of, I don’t want to hurt anyones feelings!

I’ve never had to give much criticism on these things. I’m not sure how to go about it. Thanks for the help.

When it boils down to it web design is not graphic design, they are two radically different disciplines, each with it’s own set of rules, standards, and best practices.

Unfortunately agencies and the like still tend to do things the wrong way around, and you’re seeing the effects of this. At this point it should be noted that there are some graphics designers who do understand web design, and vice versa.

If I were in your shoes I’d probably be tactfull and “express your concern” that what’s being proposed may not be in keeping with up to date methods and approaches. I’d probably throw some ideas into the ring about accessibility, user based design, customer focussed content, and so on. If those sort of things grab their attention you can start expanding your ideas, if not then I’d question whether it’s still worth working there.

In my experience what you need to do is say what you said in the OP but immediately explain what you would recommend to solve the problem. Maybe you could phrase it like this “that’s great, bearing in mind that for a website X needs to be y why we don’t just tweak this bit here and it’ll be spot on!”, make it sound like it’s their idea if you can, that always works.

Ultimately though it’s their site and if they’re in love with their designer and don’t want to take on your recommendations then just build it. You’ve done your best, tried to give them the benefit of your experience and knowledge and they chose to ignore it, so just give them what they’re paying for. It happens sometimes.

Well, if you aren’t worried about getting credit for it, you could always have a chat with the designer over coffee and give him a few pointers/suggestions.

Thanks for the responses guys.

I’m not at all worried about getting credit. I just want to work on a website that I don’t hate looking at, or that I can show people and tell them I helped develop it and not feel embarrassed about it. I just don’t know how to give criticism without sounding like a jerk. I’ve never really been one to give criticism. I can take it all day, but I never know how other people are going to react to it, and I don’t want to make someone feel like I think I know everything. I want to be as positive as possible while still giving the criticism, and that’s where I’m having a tough time.

I like JJ’s recommendation though, making it sound like they had a great idea and this is maybe how they could improve it. Still need to figure out exactly how to say that stuff, but it’s a start. Anyone else? Anyone else actually had this problem before? Thanks a lot guys.

Yeah I have a bunch of times and you’re not criticising, that’s not your role. Your role is to prepare the design for use on the web so what you’re actually doing is working with their great idea to make it suitable for the context in which you’re the expert. They’re not wrong, they just weren’t aware of internet requirements, right? Don’t even use the word ‘improve’, just say ‘to work online this needs to be this…’ Be matter of fact and confident.

Outdated strategies are the mark of the “SJ - Guardians” of the temperamental world… and hence, the majority of beaurocratic business leaders and company heads.

The Myers-Briggs system of Temperament Typing is invaluable for any business owner/leader or entrepreneur to understand.

Each type of employee has a valuable purpose to a vibrant company. Those who can’t seem to follow “the rules” are the most creative ones, taking your company into the 21st Century and beyond. (Ask Bill Gates!)

Outmoded business strategies will inevitably cause a business to get eaten by faster, more flexible sharks. (“The problem with the railroads was that they thought they were in the railroad business.”) And one of my favorites: “If it ain’t broke, break it.”