How do I give constructive feedback about something about which I know little?
August 11, 2010 6:26 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine wants me to review his business' web site. I have, and it looks awful. Problem is, I'm not a web designer/graphic designer/etc. I wouldn't know where to start giving him feedback.

I don't know if it's a violation of standard operating procedure here to link to the site; here it is. If the link needs to be removed, so be it.

But, more generally, what do I say to someone whose site is a confused mess? I have a general intuition of when a site looks well-designed and when it does not, but I don't really know how to articulate this.

Any advice?
posted by dfriedman to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Point him towards Web Pages That Suck and the checklists there.
posted by Gator at 6:32 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's very obvious from the get-go... It looks like he's really trying to ape the Huffington Post look, which is good (ok, ok) for a news site, but for a professional services site, it's not so great. Here is an example of a professional's site done appropriately, IMHO.
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:33 PM on August 11, 2010

Wow, that's ... cluttered. I can't even tell what the focus of his site is supposed to be. It's ... everything.

The basics are that more white space is good. There's some useful stuff on usability here -- maybe show him the questions

Who are the users of your Web site and what are their tasks and goals?

What information and functions do your users need, and in what form do they need it?
posted by vickyverky at 6:34 PM on August 11, 2010

I'm really not snarking at all, but it's probably best to just have him talk to a pro designer. On a first quick pass of the main page, the site seems to be a communications business (?), so it seems intuitive your friend would value the work of a visual communicator.

I'd just say, "Dude, I know it looks pretty, well, cluttered. But I'm not a pro. I'd just go find a designer."

(Can I ask why he's asking non-designer friends? When I "design" things, I head straight for my design friends.)
posted by functionequalsform at 6:35 PM on August 11, 2010

Also, writing in CAPITALS is considered SHOUTING.
posted by vickyverky at 6:36 PM on August 11, 2010

Ugh. Your intuition is right. I would say something along the lines of "The items you've posted are great! They're really relevant and interesting. I think the design could be tweaked a bit, though - I don't think it lives up to the level of professionalism and expertise you have, and it is really important that you give the best first impression possible, this is something I'd hire someone for."
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:36 PM on August 11, 2010

You don't need to become his web design consultant - if he needed one of those he would've asked one. Give him the laymen's perspective with basic terms that are still descriptive.
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:36 PM on August 11, 2010

Can I ask why he's asking non-designer friends?

You can ask, but I don't really have an answer. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person he's asked to review the site, and I know he knows design-type people.
posted by dfriedman at 6:37 PM on August 11, 2010

My guess is that he's asking you as a "civilian." Since it sounds like you don't have web design cred, that's probably what he's looking for - how does my website appear to a random internet user?

I suggest sticking to your reactions, and being as specific as possible. Really dig down and figure out what you object to about the design.

Examples of how to frame your feedback:

Good: The way you've used the gray background to highlight the date is distracting as I'm skimming the page, and makes me focus on the date the thing was posted. I think you probably want to save that kind of highlighting for the article title, instead of emphasizing the date.

Bad: OMG that gray is hideous and stupid!

Good: All the white space makes things look kind of cramped and crowded, which is very visually distracting.

Bad: Dooooood too many columns!!!
posted by ErikaB at 6:37 PM on August 11, 2010

Thanks for all these answers. They're very helpful!
posted by dfriedman at 6:46 PM on August 11, 2010

The design is both busy and broken in Google Chrome. If the site is running on a common blog software platform (Wordpress), I would suggest installing a simple less-information-all-at-once theme.

In almost all cases, less really is more.
posted by axismundi at 6:52 PM on August 11, 2010

Some book recommendations of nice short books you or your friend might be able to get at the library:

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug
The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams
posted by XMLicious at 7:17 PM on August 11, 2010

Encourage him to plunk a measly $300 down at and get a real logo created.
posted by carlh at 7:39 PM on August 11, 2010

Seconding Krug's Don't Make Me Think. Not only does it give you the vocabulary so you can say why you don't like it, it also gives you the tools to run your own usability study, so you can use other peoples' responses to back up your (oh so right) intuition that this website needs a lot of work.
posted by media_itoku at 8:42 PM on August 11, 2010

This article from Six Revisions gets at one of the main problems of the site - no visual hierarchy - and explains it pretty clearly, with visuals. From the article:

Principles of distinctive design include:

* Not giving prominence to objects unless it has a real need to attract attention
* Limiting the importance you give to all content within the page to avoid diluting the strength of the important content
* Deemphasizing less important content
* Taking the time to help guide the user’s eyes through the page to ensure content is read in the right order
* Avoiding too much information on the page to reduce the noise
* Ensuring that what you display fits the ideas you wish to convey
posted by ella wren at 9:03 PM on August 11, 2010

Just a nuts and bolts suggestion, somewhat already said, but if you want to give him a concrete suggestion which will (if he implements it) send him back to the drawing board...

suggestion 1
4 columns is at least 1 too many, maybe 2. I never, ever use more than 3, and when I do it's menus | content | sidebar (like twitter badges, etc.) and that sidebar doesn't appear on a lot of my pages. IOW, my main "look" is a left column menu with about 75% of the screen used for content, most of the time.

Columns were traditionally used for print to get as much as possible above folds and for other reasons that might have as much to do with old traditions as anything else. They're murder to read on screens because you have to scroll up and down, up and down...

suggestion 2
a 3-layer top bar menu? He really needs to decide what's important to put in the top bar, get it down to one layer, and put the other items in subordinate menus.

Beyond that, it's really, really, really cluttered, and not just visually. No thought has gone into what to LEAVE OUT. I don't see the point of many of these articles at all to what he's presenting - presumably the purpose of the site is to sell his books and get him booked, and in his industry this kind of clutter and irrelevant crap is deadly. I get the impression from this site that he would be the kind of guy who rambles and throws in a lot of meaningless fluff. Maybe he doesn't, but that's the impression his site leaves.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:06 PM on August 11, 2010

I'm not going to critique the site itself, I'm just going to offer up this tip, which will hopefully help you feel more confident in giving feedback. I used to teach workshops to new Toastmasters on how to offer evaluations to more experienced speakers, and one of my most important points was this:

As someone new to public speaking, you may not feel qualified to offer up your opinion to someone who has been a Toastmaster for many years. But even though you're new to speaking, you're not new to listening -- every person in this room is a well qualified audience member with many years of experience. That alone gives you the standing to offer your opinion.

The same thing applies here. You're not a designer, but you've seen and used a lot of websites. If your opinion is that this is a confused mess, then that's a perfectly valid opinion. Perhaps you want to pull your punches and make that sound a little nicer before you say it, but if you're okay with being blunt, then 'confused mess' is a good start.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:30 PM on August 11, 2010

Just a thought- you may want to ask a mod to remove the site from this post, or at least remove the link to it. If he sees a whole lot of strange referrals from some 'metafilter' site, he may come here, find your question, and then the bag soon be catless.
posted by twirlypen at 9:35 PM on August 11, 2010

I'm not concerned if he sees the question.
posted by dfriedman at 10:01 PM on August 11, 2010

The first question I have when I see the site is: "What's the point?" In other words: what does the client hope to accomplish with his website? Is he trying to sell a book (promote a book, anyway)?

I see Puffy P. Diddy whatever he's calling himself these days.
I see Dane Cook.
I see a douchebag with "by The New York Times" under his picture. I clicked on the link and it took me to a NYT article, but there wasn't any mention of JT Walker... so... what the heck?!?

The site makes absolutely no sense to me, and I'm both a web designer and a guy with 15+ years of old-media experience. I seriously don't get it. Then again, I also didn't spend enough time on the site to figure it out. Neither does anyone else who isn't one of JT Walker's personal friends.

Here's my advice: Strip it all down to the essence of what the client is hoping to accomplish. Actually, based on what I'm seeing here, I'd throw it all out and start from scratch, but that's not a bad thing at all.

Left Column: navigation.
Center Column: content!!!!
Right Column: what he's peddling.
Footer: Really simplified info.

Holy cow. The more I look, the worse it gets. I clicked on one of the blue links (technology) and saw a bunch of random posts. I figured they were his blog? I clicked this next. If it were my site, I'd be embarrassed by that. There's no content on the linked page, and one of the images shows up with a question mark, meaning it's missing.

Again, what's the point?

Many people want to be seen as an authority on certain subjects. In this case, technology. But the client didn't give any information. He just posted a link to a page that had a link. I'm assuming that's mostly due to whatever CMS he's using (content management system).

Here are the problems I see:

---> No structure.
There's the stuff with the blue links and the four columns and buttons and the RSS feed and and and and and... it's a mess.

---> No point.
Who the heck is this guy and what's the point of the site?
I've spent more time there than the average person can be expected to since I'm attempting to critique it, and I still don't know.

Strip it down to three columns and a header.
If the header doesn't explain who he is and what he does, then throw it out and try again.
The left column should be the site's menu system.
The right column should be what his right column is, but cleaned up.
The center column should be his content. HIS CONTENT.
Anything else should be discarded entirely.

Seth Godin's site isn't perfect, but it's a million times better. (his site would be phenomenal if it didn't take a few extra seconds to figure out. Then again, your client's site takes a week and a half to figure out... and even then, it's still a mess).

I mean no offense here, but your client's site is a bad website in every way. It could be used in classrooms to teach students how NOT to design websites. That being said... now that he knows what not to do...


Best of luck explaining any of this.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:53 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am someone who gets paid a lot of money to evaluate websites. When friends ask me to evaluate their website, I say very little. In this case, unfortunately, the website is almost a resume. It directly illustrates your friend's ability to make a good presentation.

You can really only give a comment or two that will make an impact. I would say: "It's got a lot energy and there's a lot of great content. It was my first time looking at it, but it was hard for me to sort through the 'how to present stuff' and the 'news' stuff. Maybe those could be grouped? Like that the book release header grabs your attention, but my eye kept going back to that. I don't think you need all the color there. Saw (name some specific videos you actually like) and those were awesome."

In other words, name a positive with your negatives. Name the top one or two negs only. And, yeah, as a pro, this is bad. Sorry. If you wanted to improve on it, design it exactly as you would a resume, with all the extraneous (e.g. news, etc.) stuff on the side and take out all the design, especially the rainbow header. Maybe have a prominent featured video if he wants something attention grabbing.

But above all, as his friend it is your job to be supportive not rip his site apart. Be positive, but make the two or three comments you think will make the most impact. Even professionally, this is often all I realistically expect.
posted by xammerboy at 11:36 PM on August 11, 2010

Yikes, that site is a mess. The first thing that came to mind is that its fundamental design flaws are obscured by its superficial design flaws, to steal a quote from Douglas Adams. It might be helpful to divide your comments up into big- and small-picture stuff.

Big picture:
- the visual clutter
- lack of focus - as others have pointed out, it's impossible to tell quickly what the site's about
- broken layout (make the browser window narrow enough, and the columns pop under one another)
- a huge commented-out section of HTML in the source who's reason for existence I'm not even going to guess at

Small picture
- The "video/audio/tv/radio" at the top is underlined, and looks like it should link somewhere
- horrible blue logo
- what does the "beta" tag even mean?
- that rainbow text does not exactly scream "professional"


On the positive side, he's running WordPress, and it looks like he has plenty of content. Perhaps the kindest thing you could do is head on over to ThemeForest and pick out a couple of designs that you think would be more appropriate. If he wants to keep a whole bunch of content on the front page then something like this would let him do it in a far cleaner way. Or if he wanted to make the site more business-like then something from the business category (e.g.) would give him a much cleaner look and allow him to make the front page a lot more focused.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:04 AM on August 12, 2010

Well, this is what I said to him in my feedback:

"I took a quick look at the site. To be honest, it looks a little cluttered to me. If I don't know you and I come across your site, it's not immediately clear what the intent of the site is, what it is you do/have expertise in, etc. I want to know that stuff within 5 seconds of visiting a site (if it's a site for a person's business); otherwise, I will move on.

I hope that's helpful. Do you have a web site designer helping with the site? From everything I've heard they are very useful."
posted by dfriedman at 6:03 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

TJ should take his own advice and dump some data:

posted by at at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2010

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