Dear Client: How you can give better design feedback

Providing the right feedback is a huge part of making a client-agency partnership a success.

And everyone will tell you that good communication is critical to the success of any project. However,  big piece of the good communication puzzle that you don’t always hear about is how big of a role providing good feedback plays in the success of a project.

Of course you’re probably saying to yourself, ‘But this is why I’ve hired an agency to do this, it’s their job to figure out what I want’.  Ok I won’t say that you are completely wrong and in many ways you are right – you’ve hired someone else to do a job and even if you do nothing you’ll still get a result, it just might not be the best results. Actually I can guarantee that it won’t be the best result. If you’ve never worked with an agency before and are considering it or even looking to work with a freelance designer  you’ll want to read on.

How well you provide feedback WILL directly impact results

You’ve probably seen design process diagrams that might look something like this one here.

“So what you’re saying is that if we just follow this rainbow there’ll be a big pot of gold at the end of it?”

Diagrams like these make the design process seem very logical and well, very linear too.  While it certainly helps to know the steps involved in the process, what diagrams like this don’t explain is that design in itself is a medium that can be highly subjective and this is where many of the challenges begin.

How do you know good design when you see it? How do you know what you don’t like until you see it? Or maybe you’re someone who knows exactly what you’ll like but only when you see it? I think you can tell where I’m going with this. Everything will be going great until you’re presented with everything in colors and shapes that you might not love but can’t quite put a finger on why.

Anytime you’re asked to provide feedback, there are 3 things that should immediately be top of mind to help put you in the right frame of mind.

Focus on the project goals

Why are you doing this project with these person/these people? What is the objective? Who are the end users/customers, what are their needs and goals? What must you accomplish with the project in order to achieve this? The more you can stay focused on the bigger objectives, the easier it will be to give and prioritize the feedback that is in-line with helping the project achieve the bigger objective.

If you’re building an MVP, focusing on designing features that will make it a success. If your goal is to increase conversions, led the existing data guide where you prioritize design efforts.

Be aware of personal preferences

Know that you, the human, will immediately have opinions about certain things as soon as you see them. Maybe it’s a reaction to a specific color or a style of text, you may not know why you react, you just do. Whatever it is,  recognize that it’s happening and remember what we just talked above above. Keep the bigger project goals top of mind to help validate if what you’re feeling is how you should be thinking.

Don’t try to come up with the answers

You’ve hired someone or maybe even a whole team to help you solve a problem. Let them help you solve it by giving them the what they need to do their job.  It may feel like you’re helping by being collaborative by ‘solutioning’ but try to hold-off on doing this. The people you’re working with will stay much more motivated and engaged if you leave the hard work for them.

With these 3 things in mind, here are 3 ways to improve the quality of your feedback with some examples from a recent project.

How to give good feedback: the 3-step check

There are 3 things you should keep in mind when putting together your feedback for your design team. You should keep these questions handy when drafting your feedback and refer to them again before you hit that ‘send’ button (or post it in the Slack channel!)

1. Be clear on what the issue is

Seems obvious enough, but is it? Here’s an example:

“What color is the body copy text? Can it be darker – it seems kind of small”

If someone, say your boss, came up to you and said, ‘What color is that shirt? it makes you look kind of short’, how would you respond to that? Would you find that helpful? Would you run home to change into another shirt? What if they hate the new shirt even more? What if it makes you look too tall? You get the picture. This seems like a trivial example but it helps to illustrate the point.

Takeaway: Try to be clear on what exactly that you are giving feedback on. This does not mean give a lengthy description. If  you can’t be succinct you’re probably not clear yourself with what you’re trying to say. Try to get to the root of what you’re trying to explain. If you find that you can’t get to anything, it may not be an issue after all.

2. Be clear on why it’s an issue

Using the same example from above,

“What color is the body copy text? Can it be darker – it seems kind of small”

There could be several interpretations of why this is a problem – will users not read the text if it’s this color? is it too hard to read? The latter might be the best guess but it’s still just a guess.
Takeaway: Try to provide rational for your feedback, in this case it may be as simple as, ‘our main users are senior citizens, the font here is not easy to read’

(Some insider insight: Many clients worry about ‘hurt the designer’s feelings’. Of course you don’t have to be rude, but being a designer is a job like any other. The easier you make it for them to understand what the problem is, the better they’re able to do their job.)

3. Get consensus on the issue with all stakeholders first

If your team is you and you alone you can skip this section but in most cases you, the client, will be a small (or larger) group of people all with some level of stake in the project’s success. It’s important that feedback comes from ‘one voice’ and that one person take on the responsibility of collecting and documenting it (on paper). If collating internal feedback and getting alignment amongst yourselves first seems like a lot of work I won’t argue with you. It will be, but doing this work yourselves and getting on the same page internally in itself is a process that you will find  getting a better result at the end of project.

On a recently project, here was one piece of feedback:

“Stephen loves the centered logo; feels it’s fresh. Julian unsure”

It’s great to know when things are working, and getting some positive feedback can add some needed motivation from time to time. However, hearing that one person likes something while another is ‘unsure’ puts things into a difficult place.

If there are areas that you can’t get consensus on as a team this is not to say that you should sweep them under the rug for later. Quite the contrary, these are great opportunities to leverage your agency partner’s expertise on the best course of action. Try to communicate clearly where the opinions diverge and ask for a recommendation.

To be fair, sometimes it will feel like it’s impossible to follow these guidelines. Sometimes things will feel a certain way and there’s no great way to explain it. This is normal and totally fine, the guidelines here are only meant to be just that, guidelines. I think the most important point I can share with you is that bring an active participant in the design process, when your participation is focused on the right thing, can make all the difference in you getting the most out of the relationship with your agency partner.






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