Guidelines For Better Client Feedback on Web Design

Designers who succeed in presenting their designs successfully do two things better than other designers. First, they understand that their clients are not designers and communicate with them using normal words and not words reserved for designers. Secondly, they invite their clients to collaborate on the design. Not by asking them to create mockups, but by asking the right questions and inviting them to an open discussion.

Yet, A LOT of designers insists on using words that are mumbo-jumbo to the ears of their clients when talking about design solutions.

In this article, I’ll share four guidelines that will help you get better and more actionable client feedback.

Guideline #1: Make Sure Your Client Gives Feedback from Their Audience Point-Of-View

Talking to people who are not designers using words exclusive to design makes people feel threatened (and even stupid). That’s not a good way to start a relationship with your clients (or anyone!)

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The direct result is that, during the project, many of your clients will give you feedback based on their preferences and their personal taste. And you know what? It’s your fault. You never gave them a chance. What you need to do is find a common base.

And the best base, is focusing on the goals of what you’re trying to create. The easiest way to go about this is thinking like your target audience. So tell your client that when they’re reviewing your mockups and your drafts, their job is to put themselves in the shoes of their audience and think about what their wants and needs are.

It goes without saying that, who the target audience is, should be defined before you embark on any design phase.

It’s a surprisingly effective guideline.

Now, most of your clients will have to be reminded about this. It’s easy to fall back into personal taste. When that happens, gently nudge them back on giving feedback that takes their audience point-of-view rather than their personal taste:

Ok, I understand that you want to use more classical typography here. Do you think that’s true for the people who’ll be using your website as well?

Guideline #2: Ask Why?

You’ll come a long way with guideline #1, but you’ll still get a lot of feedback that sounds like: “I don’t like it”, “Can we make this button smaller/bigger”.

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When that happens, simply ask your client “Why?”. Not in a rude way, but like you’re genuinely curious. You’re asking why because you want your client to explain why they’re saying what they’re saying. You basically want to see if their suggestions/objection is tied to any pre-defined goals of the project. Or if it applies to any special segment of their audience.

Try it in your next design presentation meeting. It’s simple and very effective.

Just ask your client to give you better feedback by asking:

  • “Why”
  • “What do you think is important about that?”
  • “Tell me more about that” etc

Before you entered the design phase you hopefully spent some time defining the goals and the audience of the project. These questions are excellent in order to guide your clients back to them.

Guideline #3: Ask Your Client to Identify Problems, Not Giving Your Solutions

A lot of clients wants to genuinely help you with the design process and the most natural way for them to do this is by offering solutions. It’s the “make the logo bigger” situation. That is never a good situation.

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Maybe for the client who really thinks they’re helping you, but it’s too leading. Rather than engaging your creative team, it directs them. And designers hate being told what to do…

When you feel you’re getting too many “solutions” from your client, ask them to frame their feedback as a problem or a challenge, rather than give you a solution.

Tell them that, by framing it as a problem, the whole project team can collaborate on a solution. In fact, if you’re all in the same room, this is an excellent opportunity to open up for a quick discussion by asking some easy questions:

  • “Anyone else see the same problem?”
  • “Does anyone have another idea on how to address this challenge?”
  • “Should we go back to the drawing board and see how the client’s solution would look, together with some other possibilities?”

Note that you’re never discarding your client’s solution. You’re just communicating that you want to go a little bit deeper and have the whole team solve the problem.

And hey. You know what? Sometimes the client is right. Always be open for that possibility.

Guideline #4: Explain the Design Process for Your Client

The last guideline is about making your client understand that design is a process. The best you can do is give your client a quick run-through on what things can be changed in what part of the process. And maybe more importantly, what changes will come with a high cost if asked to be changed later in the process.

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Layout, for example, is best defined early in the process. But changing the body font of the project can be changed later, without too many repercussions on the project as a whole. These kinds of things are obvious to you, but they’re not obvious to your clients.

By making sure your client understands the different phases in the process, you make sure that the project will run smoothly.

Collaboration – The Magic Ingredient to Any Successful Design Project

The common thread in these four guidelines is that design needs to be a collaborative process:

You, the designer bring a lot of domain expertise, but so does your client. It would be strange if you client knew as much about design as you and it would be strange if you know more about your client’s strategic goals and audience.

That’s why any design project needs to be a collaborative process. Both parts guide each other on the best decisions for the project.

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Erik Larsson

Erik Larsson is co-founder of Juntoo - a tool that lets you annotate anything on any webpage - where he's responsible for product strategy and UX.

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