Last week I wrote a post entitled It Might Not be for You or I in which I explained the importance of not letting personal taste drive the direction of a design project if you are not part of the target audience. To make the point clear, if you are in your forties and directing a project aimed at twenty-somethings, your personal tastes could be a detriment to the success of the design portion of the project.
I thought it would be important to build on that line of thinking today. Let's consider the fact that you may be leading a project that is directed at an audience that is quite different than yourself. So if what I said last week is true, then who do you lean on for insight as to what should be done?
Well first and foremost I suggest you lean on the expertise of the agency you are working with. Within all good reason you have likely hired an agency you trust. If that is the case, the best thing you can do is trust their experience and let them drive the design direction, with all the criteria you provided for them of course. If you are working with an agency you don't trust, you have bigger problems than I can help you with in the post.
The next best thing beyond that is to seek out people that are actually in the group of people you are trying to communicate with. For example if you are an adult trying to start a youth group and want a website to appeal to pre-teens, your feedback on design matters would be the most effective coming from the kids in your church. Beyond that I would suggest that you seek out the opinions of people with relevant experience. An example would be someone else at another church that runs a flourishing youth group.
The ultimate point is that asking people for their opinion is a dangerous thing when it comes to strategic design if they have now tangible affiliation with the target group or any knowledge or education in the subject matter of the project, design and branding. This is dangerous because you stand a good chance (and I have seen this happen) of allowing ideas to get into your head that muddy up your focus and decision-making abilities.
One of the interesting things I have witnessed in my time as a designer is the way people react when you show them a design and ask them what they think. Instantly, nearly all people become critics and interject all kinds of opinion (personal taste which I discussed last week) that really should have no bearing on the course of the direction of your branding efforts.
If you feel that you must seek out the opinions of others that are outsiders, how you approach that is critical. I suggest just showing them the design and say something to the effect of "Hey, check out my new logo!" or "Here is my new brochure!" and see what comes out of them naturally. The moment you say to someone "Hey, check out my new logo, what do you think?" You get a very unnatural response from them. They go from observer to critic. Anyone can pull apart any design and make a case for why something could be done differently.
Let's take the McDonald's logo as an example. If you were starting a hamburger-based fast-food restaurant and your agency designed a red logo with golden arches for you and you took that logo around to get the opinions of your friends and family they would become critical and offer feedback like "why doesn't the logo have a hamburger in it?" or "how am I supposed to know what this place sells?" or "this logo doesn't make me hungry!". By all good reason that might sound like good feedback but it is misleading. McDonald's is one of the most recognizable logos out there and none of us are critical of it because we are merely observers of it.
I hope this message is getting through to you because it could be one of the most important lessons you learn. At the end of the day I guess I am merely advocating the use of focus groups whether they be large, small or just one or two people with relevant experience and knowledge that can benefit your organization. When seeking opinion and feedback take care to ask the right people.