A short story of design feedback from “douche” clients

The thing about humans is that on the one hand, we’ve mastered the most developed communication system that involves a lot of different verbal and visual factors, but on the other hand, there are so many of them that sometimes understanding each other seems harder than understanding cats. Nature is hilarious!

A short story of design feedback - UXPin
I came here to chew bubblegum and give shitty feedback. And I’m all out of gum.
Image source: https://flypaper.soundfly.com

Who’s responsible for this? Our conscious brain, of course. It allows us to analyze, calculate, plan, imagine and, unfortunately, overthink. And that leads to a lot of misunderstandings, especially in a workplace, and especially when it comes to giving feedback to another person. 

How to give design feedback that is actually worth something for us – designers?

Giving design feedback (or any creative-related feedback) is extremely hard since the giver should be able to switch off your private aesthetics and stick to brand guidelines, design systems and basic design rules. Unfortunately, in most cases I worked on, it was all about looking for the balance between things that the client thinks are SEXY (worst word for describing any creative project  – feel the cringe yet?) and things that will actually serve the overall purpose.

I wish every client knew that good design feedback should be a combination of being a stone-cold calculator and trusting your gut. 

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”

Frank A. Clark

Yep, I know life is harsh and clients can be too. That’s why today I’ll guide you through the maze of good and bad design feedback to cheer you up (we all work with douchebags from time to time), and to arm you with some rules, you could easily use when discussing any design changes with the feedback giving site.

🙏GOAL is GOD

When trying to collect thoughts on the project to shape them into constructive feedback, it would be great if clients always kept one thing in mind, no matter what: everything you do here is to improve the final result, that will serve the business goals. The world would be much more beautiful if everyone knew that!

Client designer conversation - UXPin

That’s why before agreeing on any changes, make sure your client addresses how these will improve the product and get it closer to the final goal.

If they’re not able to answer if the change is really necessary, it means that you should forget about any new design moves now – otherwise you would waste a lot of everyone’s time and productivity loads.

✊PERSON ≠ PROJECT

Direct all of your feedback to the design, not the person who created it. Sounds obvious, but my experience in working with non-creative clients proves different, and remember we’re artists, so naturally going through an emo phase from time to time!

Client designer conversation - UXPin

Example:

“I’m not an expert, but I feel like this design could use more bright colors. What do you think?”

versus

“Eeeew, you’ve made the design look so dark and muddy – there’s no way we’re leaving it this way”

The first feedback example is the best route to improving the design without starting to hate each other, and the other is more like a personal attack, which would probably end with an overwhelming load of negative energy between you and the designer. And who needs that, especially when you’re forced to spend a lot of time together on the project, whether you like it or not?

💡PROVIDE ANGLE OR GO HOME

Don’t you even dare to think about giving feedback without even a scratch of an idea for the new direction.

Some of the people working directly with designers have this strange conviction (or even projection) that it’s the designer that should know everything and be perfectly able to read your thoughts. Designers are not mediums, dude!

Client designer conversation - UXPin

The worst thing you could do to ruin your relations with a designer is to give them feedback like “I don’t like it, I don’t know why, but it seems not right. Can you fix it ASAP”? This kind of approach leads not only to the rise of frustration on both sides, but it could also be dangerous for the project’s timeline – when something is constantly wrong and no one knows what it is, they can easily trap themselves in a never-ending wheel of redesigning. 

When there’s no strong reason and a clear purpose for changing the design, there’s no place for any changes. Period.

Here’s the list of things every good design brief should have (feel free to use it with the clients you already know they know nothing like Jon Snow):

  • THE MAIN IDEA OF THE PROJECT (business goals, target groups, brand’s identity)
  • DATA & MATERIALS (copy, pics, logos, etc.)

  • TECH SPECS (brandbooks, corporate design guidelines, file sizes and formats, type of design – eg. does the client expect a responsive version, or web + mobile separately, etc.)

  • DESIRED FEATURES (is there something the client especially loves?)

  • AESTHETIC EXPECTATIONS (on visuals and content)

  • DEADLINE / ETA

  • EXAMPLES OF SIMILAR PROJECTS FOR INSPO

💬THE REAL TALK

First of all, you have to forget about this ancient sandwich feedback method that everybody loved in the 2000s. The idea was to pack negative feedback with layers of the positive one to keep it balanced to avoid demotivating the receiver. 

But the old ways of doing things showed that people still receive this kind of combined feedback as a negative one or are unable to get the true message because it was diluted, so it was completely pointless.

Client designer conversation - UXPin

The new black of feedback is the real talk now. Keep it concrete, list the good things about the design, and all of the elements that you’re not sure are designed properly. 

The second important thing is making the feedback as caloric as possible – the best way to prepare yourself to give feedback that matters is preparing a list that combines all of the desired changes with examples of existing solutions that the designer could use as an inspiration. A list full of  TO DOs + BECAUSES is way more valuable than a list of cold TO DOs.

💣RESPECTING NOT ONLY PEOPLE, ALSO TIME

Client designer conversation - UXPin

“Whether the feedback is positive or constructive, provide the information as closely tied to the event as possible. Effective feedback is well-timed” – says HR Expert Susan M. Heathfield and it’s hard to argue with that.

Providing feedback on time is as important as its clarity and constructiveness, not mentioning that it’s crucial for closing the project on time. 

Imagine you have 3 months left to launch a new project, your design work is done after the first 4 weeks, but no one finds a while to give you any feedback. So you wait, from time to time try to remind the feedback giver that there’s some unfinished business here, but still – nothing happens. The deadline is right away, so you think everything went smoothly, the client loves your project and you can sleep like a baby. Suddenly, 3 days before The Big Day, someone accidentally reminds himself that he forgot to provide you feedback, and starts to list a bunch of things that – in his opinion – are unacceptable. 

Or realizes that the long list of things to fix is ready for 4 weeks now but he forgot to click the Send email button. Sounds like a horror movie, right? So avoid clients that desperately try to get a role in it!

Making mistakes is a part of human nature, but in this case, such negligence could bring a lot of awful consequences, e.g. violating the deadline and losing your client at the same time, or making people work under the time pressure, which could eventually lead everyone to a nervous breakdown. The person responsible enough to decide on the design should also be responsible for organizing your co-workflow in a way that will not affect other people’s work.

Wrapping up

The design feedback is just seemingly easy to give. Some people may think it’s just communicating things that you don’t love about the project, but the essence lays much deeper.

But you know, I can’t change the way things are – we’ll still work with some douche clients that think they know best, and there’s nothing we can do, but to educate them in a way they have no idea we’re brainwashing everything they know about giving constructive feedback. Of course, we could become pickier with clients, but let’s be reasonable – this way we could lose some projects with huge potential and forget about building a winning portfolio.  

If you feel you’re too fragile to work with a-holes, before another call with your douche client, try to do some yoga, breathe deeply and just be a (wo)man!  💪

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