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Managing Design Feedback: Opinions, Suggestions, and Requirements

April 8, 2013

Unless you’re working on a project for yourself, every designer will get client feedback regarding a design. Big or small, web banner or logo, every client is required to give you feedback before a design is approved. This article will cover feedback scenarios, and end with a few suggestions on improving the process of receiving (and giving) feedback. This part of the design process can cause a designer and client to grin from ear to ear, be as painful as pulling teeth, or most likely be somewhere in between.

Scenarios

Easy breezy
There are no revisions, whatsoever, and final artwork is sent to the client. This is rare, but when it happens, it’s like Christmas coming early for both designer and client.  This scenario is more likely to occur for smaller projects such as simple web banners or website graphics.

Smiles all around
The client is happy with the design, but has some minor changes. This is the ideal process that typically results in great design work. They may have a few revisions such as “change this text”, “make this logo a little bigger”, and “let’s see another color for this graphic.” In most cases, the client has their content well thought out before sending it to the designer and communicates the project well. The designer does several things well, such as scoping the job thoroughly, asking the right questions, designing a smart solution, and meeting the requirements of the project. The client is happy because they received a great product, and the designer is pleased that the design looks and functions as originally intended. The feedback in this scenario is smart and makes sense.

The designer sacrifices, but maintains the integrity of the design
 The client may or may not be happy with the design, and designer goes through several rounds of revisions but is able to maintain the integrity of the original design. This scenario is less than ideal, but good design can still live after being picked at quite a few times. These projects are more challenging for designers, but are very typical from my experience. The frustrating qualities for the graphic designer in this scenario include: losing overall quality of the original design product, an over-extended revision process and longer project time, and redesigning because of miscommunication or a lack of client communication. Fortunately, the designer is able to be patient with the client and save the design from looking like “franken-design.” The client feedback, in this scenario, is usually reasonable and good, although the designer should lead the client and voice professionally sound opinions when necessary. After all, that’s what we’re paid to do.

The designer is an aid
The client becomes the designer, and the designer becomes a graphic design monkey. In this scenario, the client goes back and forth with revisions quite a few times, and/or changes their mind a lot. You can suggest not doing what they say, but they simply want it their way. In the end, the client has paid you to have Illustrator and Photoshop skills and a basic high school degree in following instructions. Sometimes this happens when the client has a specific idea in mind but never communicates the idea to the designer. The client may wait to see if the designer will produce something better than their idea, but that almost never happens because the client has strong opinions and knows their idea is good. This scenario should rarely occur, and if it does occur often, the problem is most likely the graphic designer. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid this, because you don’t know it until it hits you.

 

Tips for designers on managing design feedback

1) Don’t take negative feedback personally, and be professional. This is something that is difficult to put into practice, and takes time to perfect. Sometimes the client may seem to be critical of you as a designer, but they should be expressing their feelings about your work. Clients can at times act unprofessionally, but a successful designer should try really hard to keep a level head while getting design feedback. If, or should I say “when” feedback upsets you via email, do not reply to the email until you cool down. If this is an in-person meeting, try your best to not show you’re upset and receive the criticism of your work. Sometimes the client is right and this is a learning experience. Other times you have to take it as it comes, and respond appropriately. 

2) Understand who you’re working for. Sometimes your client is a marketing agency or art director who hires you to do work for their client. In any circumstance you should know what position your contact is in. Are they an art director, account executive, or jack-of-all-trades? You may be able to gauge their desired level of involvement in the design process, which may impact . Working from multiple degrees of separation from the actual client could make matters more difficult, and it could also make the process go smoother. No matter who your client is, ask them if they have experience working with a designer, and be thorough with your pre-design process (utilize a questionnaire or form to be sure your bases are covered). This simple question may help inform how you interact with your contact/client throughout the project, and will help inform feedback when the time comes. You should also try to speak the same language as your client. Don’t talk about CMYK and PANTONE color swatches or HTML and CSS with someone who doesn’t understand the lingo.

3) Get feedback quickly. You want feedback while the project is fresh on your mind, and on your client’s mind. 48 hours is ideal. The sooner you get the feedback, the sooner you can make revisions and keep the ball rolling. Be alarmed when you notice delays in client communication. Find out why there are delays, and do anything you can to get what you need from your client. Be annoying if necessary (this goes for collecting overdue payments as well!).

4) Get feedback in person or on the phone whenever possible. Make sure you understand every aspect of their feedback before diving back into the design; otherwise you may be wasting your time. If you have to think twice about what the client says or emails, get clarification. Make sure you dissect their feedback to know the difference between an opinion, suggestion, and requirement. Client opinions that don’t help the design meet the project objectives should be discussed and noted to the client. Suggestions are always negotiable, and you as the designer should decide whether not a suggestion (and opinion) is worth applying to the design or not. A requirement is just that, and is almost always specific and non-negotiable, for better or worse.

5) Be thorough. Organize your feedback and be certain you have addressed every bit of it. When you present the revised design, it may be helpful to go through an outline of feedback notes to show the client you value their time and feedback.

6) Guide the process. Remember who the designer is. It’s you, not your client. If they start mocking up designs and sending them to you, that should be a warning flag that they are trying to design. Mock-ups from a non-designer can be helpful, like a wire-frame is helpful, but you’ll be charting potentially dangerous territory when working with clients that feel like they already know how they want the design to look (down to the T). Ask questions that you need answered. If the client gets distracted by something like a color or font instead of giving feedback that is critical to the project, boldly direct the conversation to what is more important and tell them why. Remind them of the purpose of that particular round of feedback if necessary.

7) Be the expert. You’re the graphic design expert that is being paid to provide creative and practical design solutions. You may not always feel it, but do your best to portray confidence in your work. Stand up for your work and trust your instincts. Personally, I hold high standards for my work and appreciate good client feedback, because on many occasions good feedback helps me to become a better designer.

I hope you find this article helpful. I would love to hear comments from designers and clients on these topics.

 

 

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