Giving better design feedback

“John in marketing wants to be able to log in directly on the home page, but Tim in engineering would prefer it on its own page. Can we compromise?”

No. We cannot compromise.

If you tell your barber that you like it short, but your significant other likes it long, you’re gonna get a mullet.

That was Mike Monteiro in a post from a few years ago about giving better design feedback. It got me wondering how you keep things “on brief” when talking about your work with clients.

Directions
Photos by Tom Magliery

When I send options for a new identity I’ll include a page near the end with pointers on how to compare ideas and keep feedback centred on the design brief. There’ll be questions such as:

  • What option will your customers be most receptive toward?
  • What idea is stronger at conveying your company as (insert words from the brief)?
  • What direction is best at helping you stand out from your competitors?
  • What design will keep your identity the freshest for longest?

I’ll normally follow the questions with a page showing my answers, talked about with the client after a few days have passed. I’ve found that those few days help when it comes to reaching consensus and avoiding spur-of-the-moment decisions — “It’s growing on me” is something I’ve heard now and again.

Is there anything you do to make sure client feedback is valuable and on point?

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10 comments

  1. Create a thorough brief that you and your client have agreed upon and put into writing before any visual work is created. It should include information such as:

    – What is the business goal of the project?
    – Who is the target audience?
    – What values/ideas should the project communicate?

    This creates a kind of neutral territory that exists before the design work begins and is not about ego, personal tastes or whimsy. It can be referred back to whenever differences of opinion occur or when it is necessary to rationalise choices.

    Once work commences, the question can then always be positioned as ‘is this choice consitent with the brief?’ rather than ‘am I right or are you?’.

    I find this is a useful method for challenging a client to justify their opinions without causing them to lose face (because in agreeing with the brief, they are also agreeing with ideas that they participated in creating).

    Make a good brief and it will love you back later!

  2. I’d say “It’s growing on me” is a good answer. That’s the feedback Phil Knight gave Carolyn Davidson on the Nike logo: “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”

    No input on the client feedback staying on point, but I do have written into the “process” portion of my website an encouragement for the client to take the time s/he needs, due to the importance of the identity. I like that Jacob Cass includes “reflection” in his design process as it is very valuable for the designer as well to step back from the drafting table for a time, rather than rushing the process.

  3. I follow these steps:

    1) Explain things clearly
    2) Show clear benefits
    3) Show why it’s perfect for the client
    4) Show what I’ve solved
    5) Respect their opinions

    In many professions there’s a tendency to use technical language either because it’s second nature or people think it makes them sound smart.

    In my experience, clients can find that kind of thing intimidating and alienating and – at least for the people I work with – they prefer clear language. They also prefer to be shown things, not just told about them.

    It’s also helped me approach things on an equal footing and produced more honest, enjoyable and effective work.

    I’m not really sure that answers your question, David, sorry!

  4. Top advice, Iain. There’s a post in the archives from six or seven years ago that’s still relevant: How do you write a design brief?

    Definitely, Tyler. Not a decision to be rushed. Now and again I’ll be asked if I can come up with an identity in time for a conference or exhibition or whatever that might only be one or two weeks away. Not a good idea.

    Hi Richard. I’m with you on the jargon. And it help things run much more smoothly when we have confidence in our ideas. Clients want to know that we know what we’re doing.

    Thanks for the input guys.

  5. I agree that getting business needs at the briefing stage and presenting our design work in light of strategic design choices are great ways to keep a project on track with a client’s stated aims and outcomes, as well as helping the client understand how I work and what value I’m bringing.

    While I’ve guided client feedback after the fact, I’ve not consistently given framing questions preemptively like you do, and I think it’s a great idea. Thanks for sharing your process, I’ll give it go here too!

  6. Thanks for reminding me of that, David. I think I probably referred to that very useful 2007 post for guidance and inspiration when I was striking by myself all that time ago!

  7. You’re very welcome, Rachel. Good luck with it.

  8. Jessica

    As someone who works with freelance designers often, I found this insightful. With much of our communication by email, framing questions like these are extremely helpful for thoughtful critiques and positive results. I’m in the midst of a project now, and this has helped me draft some great direction for the designer.

    Thanks!

  9. Normally when I work on brand identities I ask for a complete brief. But this post will really help me when working with clients.

  10. I think it’s really important, and something that we do with all branding projects, to explain how your concepts have been reached, by reiterating the implementation of the clients own wording, verbalised priorities and preferences (which should also always be physically recorded for future reference to the client). But it’s also really important to make the client understand the purpose of the design.

    For example, we deal with the design of popup exhibition display stands. The purpose behind these are to initially draw and then retain a potential consumers attention in a very short period of time with minimal detail and act as a taster. It’s important to reiterate this to the client by asking questions such as – does the design leave you wanting more information? Do you think the contact information is prominent enough? What is the number one thing you notice about the design? Rather than simply asking for ‘feedback’, which can go completely off point.

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