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How to navigate design feedback from clients

Design feedback is a double-edged sword. On one hand, designers want and need feedback to improve projects and make them better. On the other hand, client feedback can be ambiguous and not provide enough direction to get to those solutions.

Navigating the design feedback process can be awkward at times and requires cooperation and understanding from the designer and client perspective. Both sides have to work together to solve problems and create well-rounded websites and apps.

The toughest part from a design standpoint can be decoding exactly what a client means during the feedback process. “I don’t like it” isn’t enough to help develop a new solution. As a client, it is important to provide meaningful direction and be explicitly honest about how you feel about a design. (If you don’t like it in the early stages, say something; don’t wait until right before launch to voice a concern.)

As a designer, you need to create a process for navigating client feedback so that you can make the right revisions and effectively manage the process so that everyone is happy.

Here are a few tips for doing it with grace.

Ask the right questions

Ask the Right Questions

Start the feedback process with questions that help guide the client through design work. Not every client knows how to respond to or communicate how they feel about design. You can guide the conversation from the start by asking the right questions when you present a design draft for comment.

  • Does the design feel like your brand?
  • Do you think the design will speak to your target audience?
  • Were you able to find information you were looking for right away?
  • What was your first thought when you saw the design?
  • Does it meet your expectations? Why or why not?
  • Is there anything missing from the design?
  • Are there elements you don’t want to see in the design?

The right questions will do more than help you determine if a client likes the overall design. They will help you better understand what elements are on- or off-brand and if the “feel” is what the client hoped for.

Use the right tools

One of the common problems in feedback conversations between designers and clients is that a flat design is presented with a homepage outline as the primary visual for design feedback. A client might like that initial outline, but when it comes to function and usability there are concerns.

Use design-based tools to help those conversations move forward faster with “live” prototyping so that clients can interact with a real website. Make changes in real-time and allow clients to provide instant feedback.

There are several collaboration tools available.

Don’t dismiss negative feedback

Don't Dismiss Negative Feedback

Negative feedback can be tough to take. You’ve put a lot of work into a project only to find the client isn’t a fan. It’s OK. Don’t take it personally. (So much of design is about personal taste.)

Turn negative feedback into usable information. (And try your best not to show any frustration to clients. Yes, it can be really tough sometimes.)

  • Work with the client to understand why they don’t like the design. Go back to the design brief to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and you aren’t dealing with scope creep.
  • Be honest about revisions. If it is going to add to the project cost, have that conversation up front.
  • Make a change list and talk to the client about things that can and can’t be changed. You want to fix as many elements as possible and offer solutions where client suggestions aren’t feasible.
  • Don’t avoid the client. It should go without saying, but you can’t hide from future feedback after receiving negative feedback. Maintain professionalism at all times, even if you are stewing on the inside.

Think critically about positive feedback

“Wow, that’s perfect!”

Perfect feedback can be more scary than negative feedback. Negative feedback comes with problems and solutions – and what is a designer if not a problem-solver? Overly positive feedback could indicate a client is too busy to provide thoughtful feedback and that there might be some last-minute changes down the road.

Build trust with each client so they feel comfortable discussing feedback with you. Don’t write off perfect feedback as permission to move ahead with no changes. Go back to your list of questions; ask them all again.

Then, if everything still seems to be “perfect,” move forward cautiously.

With clients that love everything, provide smaller milestones for feedback to help facilitate conversations along the way.

Respond right away

Respond Right Away

Good or bad, you need to respond to feedback right away.

All feedback should be met with your interpretation of actionable items and changes. What will happen to the design based on feedback from the client?

Outline the changes clearly, explain any changes that won’t work exactly as the client suggests, provide an updated timeline and budget (if applicable) and start working through revisions. The designer and client should confirm an understanding of what will happen next before revisions get underway.

So, here’s the big question many designers have: What is an adequate response time?

Because we live in a 24/7 world where everyone has access to email and messages all the time, some clients will expect an immediate response. In most cases, you should reply within one business day. Reply the same day if possible. If the scope of feedback is extensive, reply that you are going through feedback and will be back in touch with suggestions within a specific timeframe.

It’s OK to disagree

It is OK, and perfectly normal, to disagree with client feedback. They hired you because you are the expert when it comes to design.

If a client is going down a path that you think isn’t right, could impact the usability of the design or is just a mistake visually, say something.

  • Be polite and honest about the situation.
  • Explain from a design and usability standpoint why that change is not recommended.
  • Offer an alternative solution.

At the end of the day, most designers want what is best for the client and project. Everyone has a goal of success. Use data, your expertise and experience to help guide clients to a solution with the most chance of success.

Give the client what they want

But here’s the thing: At the end of the day the client is paying you for the project, and they should get what they want.

It can be a tough pill to take sometimes. You might not get that fancy background or animation you wanted in the final project launch. Get over it. A happy client should be the end goal.

Conclusion

The key to navigating client feedback is to establish trust and understanding. Designers have to listen to clients and provide fair and honest expectations for the scope of work. Clients have to trust the expertise of designers to do what’s right.

And both sides have to communicate openly about the project needs, likes and dislikes. An open line of communication will make for better, more successful project launches.