Aesthetic – big word, not the big picture

It can be a delicate balance when working with a new client who is looking for a website redesign.  There will always be references and comparisons made to “how it looks/works now” when you’re in the midst of the design process, and you need to remember all the who-what-where-when-why of your client’s business, while making everything fresher and more up-to-date.

One of the scariest conversations to have in the middle of your process, however, is a discussion around aesthetic – particularly when you hear this statement:

“I don’t think this exactly fits our aesthetic”.


So often what is unnerving about this statement is that it’s not just the “look” part of the “look and feel” that a client is anxious about.  It’s the representation of the client’s persona and how they want to present themselves to users – their brand identity.

Aesthetic only scratches the surface of articulating a company’s brand identity through their website, and chances are that the existing website you’re tasked with redesigning isn’t doing a great job of this either, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired you!

The divide between the client and the design team’s perception of the “correct” aesthetic usually originates not from a misunderstanding of what information has been shared, but rather from what hasn’t been shared.  This often leaves the design team asking “how did we get here?”  There are a few possibilities:

  1. The design team didn’t ask the right questions in their discovery about the client’s brand;
  2. The client didn’t convey important information about their brand, target audience, or general company culture; OR, scariest of all –
  3. The client doesn’t know or can’t articulate their own brand identity

The danger of the word “aesthetic” is that it can be used in a design process to signify so much more than what either party thinks it means.  A designer will go on tweaking fonts, calls to action, images, and still not have a satisfied client, because what the client really means is “this website isn’t us, here’s what we want to say and here’s who we want to reach, and here’s how we do that”.

How do you avoid making aesthetic a dirty word in your design process?

  1. Ask the right questions in your discovery meeting.  Make sure both you and your client understand the brand identity that you’re displaying to the world on this site.
  2. You may need to help guide the client in their copywriting (if you aren’t doing that too) so that the message in the copy melds with the true aesthetic of the site.
  3. If you hear that frightening statement midway through your process, help the client articulate what about the design doesn’t match the brand identity goals you agreed on at the beginning of the project.  Sometimes taking a few steps back means a leap forward.



  • Date: Mar 21, 2016
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  • Categories: The Biz

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