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Navigating the Minefield of Opinions to Get Effective Feedback

Phil Tretheway December 9, 2022

Whether your association needs a rebrand or a new website, your biggest challenge isn’t always finding the solution to the problem at hand. Instead, it’s clearing the hurdles of final approvals from your stakeholders.

Projects run more smoothly when every stakeholder is involved. That said, demanding schedules may prevent your leadership from attending every meeting. When presenting designs for their review, there’s no worse feeling than watching progress derailed by an ungrounded opinion.

Of course, website design is a mix of art and science. No one can predict with total certainty how users will respond to a site’s appearance or how it functions. However, for a successful project, any opinion guiding a design’s direction should be supported by strategy and facts rather than personal preferences. After circulating a project for feedback with your launch date on the line, it may be tempting to respond with “Take your left-field opinion and shove it.” Of course, you wouldn’t say that. Our goal today is to avoid experiencing that frustration.

But setting opinions aside doesn’t mean your organization can’t have a website you or your leadership team love. In fact, your preferences are essential — when the time is right. But to secure a design that works, you must put strategy first.

Opinions Lead Organizations Astray from Rebranding Goals

Taking a strategic approach to your project means the design is built on a foundation of research and proven data about your association and its members. Crafting a design based on your preferences or those of your board is a risky use of your budget. Personal opinions are not only subjective, they’re much more volatile.

Past experience or even someone’s mood that day can inform their preferences. For example, a client we worked with rejected a design option because the colors resembled the rival school where they went to college. These kinds of opinions have nothing to do with the problem you’re trying to solve for your brand.

No matter how much your CEO trusts their personal taste, you can’t allow those impulses to guide your project’s decisions. You’re working to create a tool that will strengthen your association’s bond with its current members while also appealing to the next generation. Designing to connect with those specific audiences requires more than opinions and gut feelings to be successful.

For example, even though your association is targeting Gen Z with a digital project, your stakeholder feedback comes from your board. Everyone on your leadership team is highly intelligent and well-intended, but their preferences may have little relevant connection with the experiences of a 30-something, digitally savvy, and diverse population. You must provide them with the right context for the project and its goals so they can deliver a thoughtful evaluation. Otherwise, they will naturally fall back on offering personal opinions.

Strategy Takes the Lead on Successful Redesign Projects

Every marketing and communications executive knows that most successful projects start by following a strategic framework. No matter whether you’re planning a single digital campaign or a full rebranding for your association, your project has to start with creating a strategy document. The key to success is ensuring this document is well-founded and utilized throughout the entire project, by your agency and your team.

A strategy document is a tool built during a project’s discovery process that creates a guide for every decision to follow. At the beginning, you and your agency partner should work together and define the challenges your project needs to solve and other key details. 

If success is solely defined as creating a design that pleases your boss, then your project is in danger of starting on the wrong foot. You have to prioritize fulfilling your association’s objectives over satisfying one individual’s opinion.

Research Forms the Foundation of Any Strategy Document

Depending on the size of your project, you can apply multiple forms of research to create a strategy document. For example, site analytics data such as visitor traffic, session lengths, and user information allow you and your agency to build a baseline of quantitative data. As discovery moves forward, interviews with your internal teams and user surveys are among the ways to get qualitative insights. 

In the end, your strategy document reveals at least three defining attributes of your project:

  • Audience: Your target users and their needs.
  • Messaging: How your association will communicate to its audience.
  • Goals: What the project must accomplish for your association.

At key milestones, you and your decision-makers should reference the approved strategy document to resolve design questions. A solid strategy gives you the confidence and authority to push back on unfounded opinions, even when they come from people that outrank you.

3 Tips to Avoid Common Pitfalls of Project Decision-Making

You and your stakeholders will be providing feedback to your digital agency as your project takes shape. Avoid costly changes to your timeline (and your budget) by applying these 3 rules:

1. Depend on a Single Source of Truth

Whether your strategy document remains accessible on your internal network or framed on your wall, it should always be available for everyone on your team. It is the guiding light for your organization’s project. Consult the strategy document before every design review, so your internal teams are in the right mindset.

2. Apply Context to Every Decision When Delivering Feedback

If you ask your stakeholders for their opinion, you’ll get their opinion. Instead, request an analysis of your design while giving the right tools to make a decision. Instead of asking, “Which logo appeals to you?” frame the question a different way. Try asking, “Which logo will appeal to our audience and best communicate our message?”

3. Lean Into Your Experts

When your project needs feedback from your leadership team, you don’t have to go into those conversations alone. You should gather your creative team with your organization’s decision-makers in the same room for milestone decisions. That way, your design experts can communicate the rationale behind each option, ensure the conversation stays on track, and address questions that may potentially derail the project.

When Opinions Are Welcome (and Essential) in a Design Project

Placing your organization’s strategic goals ahead of personal preferences may be challenging, but it’s not a constant requirement. Once you’ve established that your project’s needs can be fulfilled with multiple design concepts, you should leverage your preferences to make a final choice.

After all, the right design partner wants you to be proud of the final product. Once your new website or campaign launches, you should love it and be excited, especially if it involves a total rebranding or visual identity. 

Plus, when you have the assurance that every decision was made in service of solving the challenges at hand, your ability to act as your project’s champion grows much easier.

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