Being a designer is a great job – solving creative problems for clients through a collaborative process, getting creative with your ideas, optimising and tweaking to your heart's content. And then comes the moment you need to ask for feedback. It’s daunting to lay your creative work bare for all to see.
Giving feedback can also be a stressful experience for clients. Pinpointing and articulating concerns can be a challenge and no one really wants to criticise their designer's hard work.
However, avoiding feedback isn't an option, as design is a collaborative process. Though designers are experts at conveying ideas, clients are the experts of their own businesses and in understanding the most important characteristics that need to be represented through the design. Learning to ask for design feedback effectively is a critically important skill for professional designers, just as giving feedback in engaging and constructive ways is an important skill for clients.
Feedback is a crucial part of the design process, as it keeps you on track and in line with the client’s goals. Mastering the art and science of giving and receiving feedback is, therefore, a must. Many designers often ask open-ended questions, such as “what do you think?” when presenting their work. This isn’t, however, the best way to get intelligent, precise, and meaningful design feedback which you need to move the work forward. This is because clients often struggle to voice specific concerns with such a broad question. Designers must remember that most clients have little or no design experience, which means they come at the work from a different perspective and might use different language to explain their feedback. Misunderstandings are common, so designers and clients have to work together to achieve the best outcomes.
This in mind, it is helpful to remember that clients can benefit from understanding your thought process and how you got to the end result. Being aware of these diversities of thought is helpful for both designers and clients.
This article will outline the potential pitfalls of asking for feedback on design work, how to make it a smoother, more constructive process for everyone involved.
Presenting design, storytelling, and outlining the creative thought process
One way to receive better design feedback is for designers to present their work effectively. A robust presentation gives you the space you need to show off your work, while also outlining the thought process that went into the design. Taking the time to go through the project step-by-step also means that clients have the opportunity to take in the work, before being asked for their opinion on it.
Beginning the design presentation with a recap of the objectives of the piece is useful for both parties. Go over the underlying concept of the work, so that everyone can agree on the starting point as well as the client's desired outcomes. Designers can then go over the highlights of the work and how they believe it fulfils those outcomes and user needs. Only after this should clients and designers begin to ask questions.
During presentations, asking good questions means planning them out and preparing space for clients to discuss the design.
When you are presenting a design, it is important to remember that it is not a finished product. Also, you are not showing a single item. Instead, you are showing off a series of choices and decisions that led to the end result. It often helps to take clients through the rationale behind your choices and ask their opinion on specific decisions.
The more aware designers are of their own decision-making, the easier it is to take clients through their thought processes. So, while designers complete a piece of work, it helps to note why certain elements were chosen. For example, designers could explain that they chose a particular label because it was more eye-catching, or that they placed a button in a location that made the most sense based on typical user behaviour.
Explaining these choices also gives designers a chance to bring the client into the decision-making process. For example, designers might be unsure about a particular colour scheme, or might want an opinion on the placement of a logo. Offering opportunities for input helps clients feel like they are a part of the process. It also makes the presentation an interactive conversation.
By doing this, designers also make it possible for the client to give actionable design feedback. The best kind of design feedback encourages designers to think critically about the work. Giving clients time to think beyond their initial reactions – and get to the “why” behind their opinions – is an effective method of gathering useful information.
Ultimately, as a designer, the ideal situation is to present, come up with good questions, receive actionable feedback, and then go back and tweak the design. The ability to drive the discussion with thought-provoking questions is a part of that process.
Some examples include:
- I placed this logo here, because I felt it fit nicely with the design – do you think its placement effectively shows its importance on the page?
- I wasn’t sure where to put this icon, but it’s important for the customer experience –where would you put it?
- I chose to declutter this area to make it easier to read –do you think it works better from a customer experience perspective?
The beauty of these questions is that they draw the client into the design process, instead of asking for a value judgement. These questions invite clients to think critically about what is working, what isn't working, and why.
Asking questions allows designers to get useful feedback, instead of personal opinions. This is important for feedback on design because clients often make snap decisions based on personal preferences, such as “I don’t like pink,” rather than making actionable comments. For example, “I think the text should be darker, because it isn’t readable against the background.”
Making space for clients to ask questions
Giving clients the space to think by asking good questions helps to cultivate a productive mindset. This ultimately leads to better creative work. As a designer, asking questions during the feedback phase of work supports your client in their efforts to give actionable and constructive feedback.
Cultivating an open and productive conversation means letting clients ask questions about the work. Designers should be ready to talk about it and engage in a lively discussion. If there are multiple clients in the same room, it can help give them all some time to hash it out and find points they all agree on, before moving forward.
Receiving feedback and criticism
Receiving feedback for your work can be hard and designers are no exception. The best way to receive feedback is to acknowledge clients' comments and work together on solutions. It can help to ask specific questions. It is also smart to manage expectations from the beginning by explaining what kind of comments are helpful and which aren’t.
Feedback is an ongoing process. The best way to cultivate effective feedback is by taking a collaborative approach that is intended to be both constructive and non-judgmental.
To sum up:
- Agree on desired outcomes with clients
- While you’re designing, keep notes on the decision-making process and how it achieves the desired outcomes
- Get to a point where you are ready to present ideas
- Take clients through your design, including how you got to the end result
- Ask questions to bring the client into the discussion and cultivate a productive conversation
- As a designer, make space for questions during the presentation, especially if you’re not sure about an element
- Receive comments and criticism gracefully—remember it isn’t personal!
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