A couple weeks ago, we were talking about how your designer is not an order taker. I made a pretty convincing case as to why, as the client, you should refrain from telling your graphic designer how to do their job. But of course we’re now all wondering, when and how should you offer feedback? If at all?
Rest assured, I think it’s perfectly fine and healthy for a client to provide constructive feedback in the designer-client relationship. In fact, something feels wrong if the client doesn’t have anything to say when I present a design. Trust me, we want to hear from you! So it’s really just a matter of how you phrase things.
Let’s go over them, shall we?
1. First, make sure you’re on the same page
When providing feedback, it’s important that you both are clear on what exactly you’re evaluating. Are you looking at the overall look and feel of the design or logo? Are you giving input on the color scheme or font choices? What about the message and branding? Or the imagery used?
Even being aware of whether or not the images and content are placeholders can be a big deal. I’ve had so many clients who immediately say they don’t like the photo on a website comp, which was really just a placeholder and was going to be changed anyway. Relax, and let’s figure out what we’re talking about first.
Bad: “What do you think?”
“I like it.”
Good: “First, let’s go over the overall look and feel of this brochure. Do you think it conveys the message you were trying to communicate?”
“For the most part, yes. However, I’m not sure if the outside looks very welcoming, which is an integral part of our brand. What can we do to address that?”
2. Be direct and honest
Don’t worry, we are professionals. As much as I’d love it if you were ecstatic about the design and didn’t want to change a thing, the reality is that doesn’t happen very often and I’m used to hearing criticism. I promise you, you won’t hurt my feelings if what you have to say isn’t all roses and sunshine. Just don’t be a jerk about it; I still spent blood, sweat, and tears on this design for you.
Bad: “Yeah, I guess this will work.”
Good: “This is a good start, and I appreciate how much effort you’ve put into researching my competitors. But I’m worried that this looks a little too much like some of the stuff they’re doing. Is it possible to differentiate ourselves better?”
3. Eliminate “like” from your vocabulary
Much like #4 below, it’s important that you eliminate the word “like” from your vocabulary when giving design feedback. Frankly, I don’t care if you like it. What I care about is if this design meets your business goals. What I care about is how your audience responds to it. So keep that in mind when giving your designer input.
Bad: “I really like that font!”
Good: “The font you used is a great choice, I think it is very legible and will really appeal to our younger audience.”
4. In fact, leave your personal tastes at the door altogether
I know this is hard, but try to not bring any personal biases into the design presentation. Remember, you are not your business. It is a separate entity, with its own goals and needs. Remember what those are, and stick to them.
Bad: “I really just don’t like blue. It reminds me of blueberries, and I hate blueberries.”
Good: “Although I personally don’t care for blue, I know our company stands for trust, loyalty, and security. Does blue do that?”
5. Ask questions
If you’re unsure about something, ask! There is no such thing as a stupid question. Well, there are, but not during design presentation and feedback 🙂 It’s a safe space.
Good: “Can you explain the difference between RGB and CYMK again?”
6. Be the problem maker, not solver
Like we’ve been talking about, your job as the client is to clearly define the problem for the designer. The designer’s job is to find the solution. Avoid giving prescriptive feedback whenever possible, and instead tell the designer what issue you or your audience might be having, and trust them to fix it.
Bad: “Can you move that button up and to the right? And make it bigger? And red?”
Good: “I’m worried that people won’t see the button. What would you recommend to make it more prominent?”
7. Reference the design brief. A lot.
Good feedback will refer back to your business’ goals as well as the audience’s needs. Bad feedback is subjective and prescriptive.
Bad: “Those muted colors and serious photos are so boring. I think bright, colorful images would be much more fun.”
Good: “According to our brief, we wanted the brochure to appeal to a more affluent audience. Working professionals in their 50’s and 60’s, who make over $250,000 a year. I’m not sure colorful images will do that.”
8. Do not try and comp
This is about the worst thing a client can do, is when they take it upon themselves to design a comp or a mockup of exactly what they’re looking for. As tempting as it is, don’t.
I’ve never seen a client be happy with the results, and they often wonder why the design still isn’t working. I in fact charge extra when a client does this, and am considering adding this to my contract. Leave designing to the design professionals, and refer to point #6.
If you must, provide some examples of outside designs that give the same impression you’d like, and explain what it is about them that seems to work.
Bad: “I made an example of what I’m looking for!”
Good: “Since our target market is very technologically advanced, and into what’s new, we would like the website to be trendy and ‘airy’ with a lot of white space…kind of like how Apple or eBay are doing theirs.”
9. Don’t give cliché, vague, or overused feedback
If I hear the words, “make it pop,” one more time, I swear I’m going to pop. A cap that is 😉
I kid, but seriously, please do not resort to using tired phrases to communicate with your designer. We hear them all the time, and frankly, no one knows what the hell “jazz it up” even means anyway.
Bad: “Make the logo bigger.”
Good: “We would like more emphasis on the logo. It seems to be getting lost at the moment and is hard to see.”
10. Don’t let a committee get involved
Oh, the dreaded design by committee. So Bob in accounting thinks the logo should be more round and happy, but Sue in marketing thinks it should be sharp and edgy…can we compromise? No, we cannot compromise.
As the saying goes, a mullet is a compromise between long hair and short hair. No matter how you view it, it’s just ugly.
If you must get feedback from several people, select only a few key players, and ask directed questions, like, “does this logo communicate strength?” or, “would these colors resonate with kids?”
Avoid asking them openly what they think, because everyone will feel like they get to chime in and play designer. Compile their feedback into a coherent list, and decide what is important and what is not (hint: you’ll be taking a lot of feedback with a grain of salt). Then present that list to your designer, and together you can go over it and discuss whether or not that input is appropriate for the brand.
Make sure your designer has only one point of contact (you); nothing is worse than getting conflicting input from several different people.
Bad: “Jane likes this, but Sarah said that, and Jon’s kid drew this! Oh, and my boss thinks it should be vomit yellow.”
Good: “Overall, everyone responded well to the idea of tying in mythology to our brand. However, some of them couldn’t tell if the logo was a lion or a tiger. Can you try rendering that a little differently to make that more clear?”
11. Ask the designer their professional opinion
Here’s a wild thought…try asking the designer what they think.
I had a client do this to me, and I nearly fell out of my chair. We were reviewing some logo designs, and had narrowed it down to two, and she asked me, “in your professional opinion, which one do you think will resonate more with our target audience, and why?” So I told her, honestly what I thought, she listened, and basically was thinking the same thing.
I really feel that together we arrived at the best possible decision for her new logo. Now, you don’t always have to just go along with what the designer says, but you might be surprised at what they have to say. When all is said and done, they are the design experts, and ultimately you should trust their judgment. If you don’t then something’s wrong.
Bad: “I think we’ll just go with this one.”
Good: “What do you think will be the best option for our company?”
There you have it, eleven easy ways to give good, solid feedback to your designer.
You both can thank me later. If you follow this advice next time you meet with your designer, not only will you be their favorite client for all eternity, you’ll also end up with a more successful, and strong, design.
What about you?
What sort of feedback do you appreciate, if you’re a designer? If you’re a client, what words or phrases have helped you the most in getting your point across? Have you been guilty of letting personal bias into your input?