One of the biggest unforeseen challenges of becoming a web designer for me has been effectively dealing with client feedback. Simply put, I think honest, respectful, and open communication is the key to any good relationship, business or otherwise. But, of course, it is much easier said than done. Occasionally it just works, but more often than not it takes work. Here are some of the things I have learned that are essential for keeping things running smoothly. Just call me Dear Abby.
My personality is one that I think is common for designers: introverted, non-confrontational, thoughtful, and occasionally crotchety. Why else would we enjoy spending so many hours alone, staring at a screen, making stuff? I put a lot of effort and thought into my work, and it can be difficult to separate myself from it. Therein lies step No. 1: you have to separate yourself from your work so that you don’t take anything personally. There is no quick and easy way to do this, other than muttering “don’t take it personally, don’t take it personally” over and over again under your breath during client meetings. Don’t do that. But do figure out how to step back from your work and look at it with fresh eyes. The client will feel more confident about being honest and open with you when they realize you’re not going to be offended. Once you have done this, you will be able to view your work objectively.
Now that you’re looking at the work objectively, you can start thinking “what is best for the end result?” This means being okay with deleting or changing parts of your design if they aren’t working, even though you have grown to love them. It means listening – really listening – to what the client has to say and viewing the work from their perspective. You don’t need to agree with everything they say, but you do need to listen, process, and analyze it. And if you don’t agree, you need to be prepared to explain to them why, and how you can come up with a solution that you are both satisfied with.
Whys and Hows are essential in good feedback. I am of the belief that it is more difficult to give feedback than it is to receive it, and so unless your client is an art student or Simon Cowell, it probably feels unnatural and awkward for them to critique another person’s work. The responsibility then falls on the designer (and/or project manager) to educate and gently guide the client to provide the feedback needed to move forward. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions; this is where the Whys and Hows come in. It is very easy for someone to say “I don’t like X,” but that is an empty statement and near impossible to act upon. Instead, the client needs to be asked why. Why don’t they like it? Is it hard to read? Does it not align with their brand? And once you have the why, it is a hundred times easier to provide a how to improve it.
One thing that people don’t often realize is that positive feedback is equally as valuable as negative feedback. When called upon to provide a critique, a common reaction is to hone in on the negatives. Why not also hone in on the positives? Unless we are told, designers don’t know if we are moving in the right direction with a design. And as before, it is essential to ask (say it with me now) Why. Why do you do they feel something is working well for the page?
Lastly, but definitely not leastly, the way in which the feedback is delivered should always be in writing. This has a number of benefits. First, if your client is a team of people, it consolidates and aligns all opinions into one, letting any internal discussion settle before the feedback is received by the designer. Second, it can easily be referenced in future rounds (and can’t be reneged if someone changes their mind). And third, having a well-written, well-organized list vastly improves the workflow of the designer.
As I said in the beginning of this post, the most important thing of all is to keep all communication between both parties honest, respectful, and open. And even though at times it may feel like you are butting heads, we must always remember that in the end, both the client and the designer have the same goal: a website they can be proud of.