5 Tenets of Negative Feedback

Despite a designer’s best efforts, at times, we might miss the mark. Usually a lot of this is handled before we even get to a visual stage by discussing the project in detail and then coming up with a design brief that we send to clients for approval so that we agree as to what our overall aim is and how we intend to accomplish it. However this doesn’t mean that what those words mean to one another will be the same and may require some finessing to get everyone to a place we’re all happy with.

1) Preventative Action is the best if you can manage it

Be clear about expectations. Don’t be afraid to show examples of things that you liked if you think that will help the designer. While on the one hand, we’re there to come up with the “big idea” if you’re thinking pink and we walk in with black, it’s gonna create some friction. And that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes we get locked into ideas prematurely and they aren’t the best solution for what we need. So what you need to do is share anything ahead of time which will help you in two ways: 1) If your designer agrees with your thinking, it saves time and energy to get you to that place where you go “Wow, I love it.” 2) If your designer doesn’t agree with you, it gives them the opportunity to put together the information to help you consider changing your mind with a different big idea. For example, if you want to do a pink baby website, the designer might suggest an alternate idea to set you apart. They can then also show you there’s already 10,000 pink baby websites, so can make the informed decision of whether or not you want to join the pack. Be open, be clear, and share. This applies before you’ve seen anything, and after you have.

2) Try to avoid getting overly emotional

Ok. Prevention didn’t work. You aren’t happy. It happens. Despite my best efforts with clients and thorough outlines of goals etc, some things just don’t really translate until their shown in a visual. My meaning of modern and your meaning of modern might end up being two different things. So what do we do?

Don’t panic or get overly emotional is my number one recommendation. While I don’t have it happen frequently as I’ve done as much as I can do (see my article on Foundations for Project Success) it does happen. Now we’ve got to deal with it. Panicking or getting angry unfortunately will not help the situation. While I appreciate the “oh my god it’s 2am and I just saw this and I totally hate it” email might seem like it’s necessary, it’s not really and only escalates the situation to another level. We’re all working to a common goal: to create a design that’s going to fit the parameters of your project, with the intent to give you a good return on investment. As such, it’s important that we all do our best to keep our heads cool and our goals and expectations clear.

3) Be respectful

True story. I was in a presentation where we were discussing some initial layouts for a web design. Everyone was pretty happy with what was in front of them and we were discussing how we might address a few changes. Then, an individual who hadn’t been saying a lot was asked what she thought: “I think this is whole area is  garbage.” she said.

HMMMMM. Is this a respectful way to discuss something? Nope, sure isn’t.

As you are the client, I get it. You’re paying the bill, you want the best you can get. The bang for your buck. But I think sometimes I find that clients forget that I know this fact as well. I’m also aware, that everyone is different, and that we all might have a different opinion of what looks good. Having said that, it’s important to remember that despite that this is a subjective process to a certain extent, that we talk to each other about the details of what the “good” is in a polite respectful manner. No matter how unhappy we are. Period. Telling someone that what you’ve shown is garbage, or that you just don’t like it while raising your voice isn’t going to get you any closer to your end goal: a successful design. So talk about WHY you are unhappy. Is the image not something you agree with? Is the color too punchy? Be specific but polite. It’ll get you a lot farther in the end.

4) Speaking of being specific…

When you’re talking to your designer about a project, it’s important to try to break it down. A general “I just don’t care for it” isn’t going to work. If we were mind readers, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place now would we? So be prepared to talk about specifics with your designer. While we’re conscious of the fact that you may not have the full design lingo down, a good professional designer should be able to talk to you about what you do share. What does the font say to you? Is it too frilly? Does it have too many swirls? Is it hard to read? How about the images? Do you relate to them in the context of your project? Even negative feedback is good and helpful.

Being specific about your likes and dislikes will go a long long way to achieving a good end result. I’ve had clients say they really didn’t like a design and then once I peppered them with questions, it was apparent that they weren’t against the design, there were a few elements within the design that were making them unhappy. After a hearty discussion and a few changes to imagery and a color or two, often they are actually quite happy. So talk it out. It’s part of the process.

5) Know when it’s time to terminate the relationship

A designer/client relationship should be built on respectful discussion, trust and the willingness of both sides to work towards the end goal. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Personality can play a role, as well as professionalism with regards to how we treat one another. If you can’t ever get your designer on the phone, if the designer constantly misses the mark or is disrespectful to you, then it’s probably best to move on. When you feel as though you’ve reached the “threshold”, it’s time to terminate things. Getting nasty will not get you a good design, it most likely won’t get the designer to pick up the phone, and if you have a deadline, most likely it won’t help you make it. So don’t let things get to that point. It’s like any professional relationship, if the business is not providing the level of service you feel they should, then it isn’t a good fit.

In most cases it will not come to termination – especially if items 1-4 on this list are addressed. I’ve only had to fire 3 clients in my 13+ years as a designer (and yes, the designers can terminate the relationship as well – #3 on the list will play a very big role in that for me) so don’t fret too much. Talk about your needs and how they need to be met, and come up with a plan of action with your designer. Business relationships like any other relationship can take time and learning to fully prosper but can end up being some of your most indispensable.