Question About Getting Design Buy-in

This week’s question comes from Scott Erich.

I was tasked with “rebuilding” my organization’s website, and for reasons beyond my control, a team was selected for the contract that I had serious doubts about. My worst nightmare came true when they sent me the dummy site that is actually a dummy. Beyond glaring ridiculous design techniques (Comic Sans is actually used in other parts of the site), how can I convey that we need a more “new” look?

Sherpa Dan Mall answers:

Egads! That’s quite the sour situation you’re in. Here are a few tips to help you turn lemons into lemonade:

Sample, sample.

I love it when my clients are more prepared than I am, because it motivates me to rise to the challenge. You can do the same with your vendor by inundating them with examples of things you’re looking to see from them:

  • Make moodboards that capture the general tone of your desired outcome.
  • Piece together an element collage of things you find on other sites.
  • Send them links to Dribbble shots you think could work for your site.
  • Write a creative brief for them that outlines the challenges they’ll face and high level direction for where to start.

Rather than waiting to be reactive to what they show you, be proactive about showing them the kinds of things you expect. 


Don’t settle for the typical back-and-forth email chains that come with web projects. Invite your vendor in to your office for regular working sessions. Sketch together, brainstorm, and share ideas. 

Some face-to-face time can really help to get ideas flowing that neither of you would be able to do independently. Remember, you initially hired them for a reason; there’s a good chance they have some great ideas that might only surface after a little digging.

Cut your losses.

If you’re finding that you can’t salvage the relationship, mutually and politely decide to part ways. They may be as unhappy as you are and looking for a way out too. No sense prolonging the agony for either of you.

Stay positive.

Whether you decide to call it quits or tough through it, keep your head up. Negativity rarely solves anything. Praise the things that are good, challenge the things that need work, and do it all in the spirit of a polished end product. Everyone involved will be happier for it.

Hope that helps!