Web designers are frequently expected to work with inherited assets. What happens when the last guy wasn’t as professional as you?
Just imagine it, you walk into your office, and you get a notification: your client has just dropped everything you need into your cloud storage provider of choice. The copy brings tears of joy to your eyes, the images are crisp, clean, and huge. The logo is a work of art, and the client has sent a note saying, “Actually, we don’t need you to finish up for another three months, but why don’t I just pay you double right now?”
And then you wake up.
The truth is that your deadline is the same, but they’re “just wondering if you could speed things up a little”, the provided images are 640×480 and just blurry enough to be annoying, the logo is an abomination made in Word, and the brand’s colors remind you of those awful school uniforms you used to wear.
some people have a talent for picking the absolute worst shades of brown, yellow, and green for their brand
Okay, now I’m just being mean, but it’s a sad reality that we often have to work with sub-par assets in web design projects. Logos don’t always look great, and some people have a talent for picking the absolute worst shades of brown, yellow, and green for their brand. It’s enough to make you throw your hands in the air flamboyantly and shout, “I just can’t work with this!”
But what about all those times when you don’t have a choice, and your clients refuse to let you completely redo their branding? You know, most of the time. Well, you do have a few options.
Just kind of ignore the logo as much as you can, really. I mean, obviously, it needs to be there, probably in the upper-left, or in the upper-middle. But just sort of… leave it there. There’s not much you can really do about a logo. The users need to see it, and the client will definitely be annoyed if it’s not there.
if there was ever a time to push back when the client asks you to make the logo bigger, this is it
However, if there was ever a time to push back when the client asks you to make the logo bigger, this is it. And where a lot of sites will incorporate the logo mark into other aspects of the design, this time, it’s staying in its designated spot. Maybe if the rest of the site looks drastically better than the logo, it will give the client pause, and perhaps even a reason to get it redone.
Thankfully, few logos are ever truly that ugly, at least among clients who can afford you. Overcomplicated and hard to see at small sizes? Yes. Generic and boring? Sure. But WordArt-ugly? Thankfully that’s not as common as it once was.
Colors are another story, and for every color combination that sparks joy, Marie Kondo-style, there’s a combination that sparks nausea. But hey, brand guides are brand guides, and you gotta follow the brand guide.
The best thing to do is to use the colors, but as sparingly as possible. Many colors are only truly terrible when they’re in close proximity to each other, so use some (probably literal) white space to your advantage. Keep them apart, and use them only for emphasis.
Will your client ever demand that you make the entire background puke-green? It’s possible. Even then, maybe you could get away with using a gradient to minimize any negative effects.
Once again, embrace the white space. If all you have to work with are a bunch of very small images, make that small size look intentional. Make those tiny images the center of attention, and pray most of your users aren’t using retina screens. You can get away with a lot if you make it look like you planned it all from the very beginning.
if Instagram has taught us anything, it’s that excessive filtering can make any old photo look like it’s supposed to be art
Another way to do this is to use the images as large, blurry backgrounds. This works best with landscapes and macro shots, though. That company “team portrait” doesn’t work as well for background material, sadly.
Lastly, if Instagram has taught us anything, it’s that excessive filtering can make any old photo look like it’s supposed to be art. Sometimes. Add some film grain, desaturate the photos, and maybe throw in some harsh, spotty lighting. Users can’t judge what can barely be seen.
I’m only half joking.
Legacy UI Elements & Widgets
Now this is a rare situation, but on occasion, a client might have some leftover UI assets that they really, really love. Maybe they designed their first shiny Web 2.0 button in Xara 3D nearly twenty years ago, and they just have to use it. Maybe they have a favorite graph showing how their business works.
Again, this isn’t common, but you may find yourself having to work around it. For the example of the graph, I’d put a full-on skeuomorphic, photo-realistic picture frame around it. I’d treat it like a piece of the company’s history. An approach like this could also work for the example of the button.
When All Else Fails, Lean Into the Ugly
Brutalism is a thing. It’s like I said before: you can get away with a lot if you make it look like you fully intended to use butt-ugly color palettes, low-quality images, or even ‘90s clipart. That’s right, you can make clipart work. I’ve seen people do it.
Embrace the aesthetic, and call it retro, or call it ironic, I don’t care. I mean—and I admit, this is the example I use every time I talk about less-than-pretty design—people still love Craigslist. Making the website work is more important than making it beautiful. Giving the user what they want, when they want it, is worth a million high-resolution photos, and Jon-Hicks-designed logos.
Featured image via Unsplash.