The One Phrase You Should NEVER Tell a Designer
“I don’t like this”, the four words every designer dreads to hear, but not for the reasons you might think. When you (the client) says you don’t like something, it isn’t necessarily offensive but it can require some FBI-level ciphering to understand exactly what “I don’t like this” actually means. Are you having horrified flashbacks to times you’ve said this? No need to feel bad, we are here to grow and learn. I’ve got field-tested tips, guidance and recommendations from a designer to you, a fellow human that will not only improve your feedback skills but also foster better relationships with the people you hire to design all the beautiful things.
Giving constructive feedback isn’t just important for a designer. As a client, your main objective is to receive deliverables which meet your (spoken or unspoken) expectations. When I look back at unpleasant client situations, almost all of them were rooted in uncommunicated expectations or lack of context in feedback.
I care deeply that my clients are satisfied and thrilled with the end result I provide them and have worked hard to ask the right questions which provide color to vague feedback. It’s my responsibility to ask questions, probe for more information and get to the root of a problem in order to move forward with a solution. However, I think it’s helpful to set clients up for success so they feel empowered and encouraged to be honest, constructive and willing to provide the feedback needed for the best possible outcome.
Here are a few of my do’s and don’ts to being constructive:
Take a second look (or third) and then say something
Designers are not intentionally delivering a design you’ll hate, they are providing a starting point based on the information they have available to them, but sometimes things feel off….wayyyyyy off, and we just want to tell someone right away. While timely feedback is encouraged in maintaining good relationships, off the cuff feedback can often be unhelpful. If you are feeling heated (good or bad), take a step back to regroup, revisit in a few hours and provide your feedback when you are in a clear headspace. It is both unproductive and unhelpful to leave feedback in the heat of the moment not to mention that it can begin to sow doubt in the relationship between you and your designer. You should absolutely convey how you are feeling, especially if expectations are not being met, but I encourage you to relay them constructively and in a calm headspace.
Be clear about what you are referring to.
“It needs to be punchier” when referring to a website creates more questions than answers for a designer. Particularly with projects that involve multiple pages, sections and design elements, you want to ensure your feedback is reflective of the change you would like to see. Try instead to think about it like this example:
“I would like to see more vibrancy in the colors throughout the site and specifically on the homepage. The overall design right now feels a bit muted and I’d like it to feel more lively”
Here the feedback tells the designer a full story…
Specific to the design element in question: color palette
Specific to the area of the site: throughout, but most importantly the homepage
How you (the client) sees the design: muted
How you (the client) would like to see the design: lively
To make the feedback experience even more clear, I use a tool called Pastel which allows clients to leave feedback on websites, PDFs and images in the exact areas they would like to see a change. Using clear language coupled with Pastel means that client feedback is clear, reduces back and forth and ensures the revisions process is transparent.
Think holistically rather than personally.
While your personal taste is important, we are designing your content with your brand and ideal client in mind. This is the very reason we build a brand strategy and customer archetype before testing color palettes, logotypes and design. We want to ensure that anything designed or built is done with your goals, strategy and customer in mind. Aligned branding means we are not simply aligning your tastes with a logo. We are aligning a vision, strategy and values with mindful branding. Therefore, when providing feedback, think holistically rather than personally. At a high level does this design reflect your goals and brand archetype? Does it match the strategic vision of the company? Personal taste is important, but alignment is our end goal. Thinking about the brand’s perception and goals allows us to clearly see a design within our brand’s framework and where we want to improve.
Everyone has an opinion, but not every opinion is equal.
Unpopular designer opinion: be selective with your outside feedback. Asking a designer to drastically change a design, scrap entire pages of a site or completely redirect the design direction based on a sister’s cousin’s hot-take on a design is rarely helpful and sometimes destructive to the design process. It creates unnecessary doubt in your mind not to mention a precarious situation for the designer. Speaking for my own process, by the time a design reaches your hands it’s gone through hours of strategy and research which you approve and greenlight before anything is created. When it is presented, the collaborative refining process begins. This is a really special process working with you to ensure everything is just right.
If you choose to ask for someone’s opinion during this process (other than the designer or your team) about a new logo or website, ensure these people have your best interests and goals in mind. Simply asking if someone “likes” a logo or “enjoys” a color palette is far different than asking someone who fits your customer archetype about their perception or perspective on a design. Here’s how to ask for constructive feedback from people inside and outside of your organization:
“Does this resonate with you as a customer (or potential customer) of our brand?”
“What feelings or reactions come to mind when you see this (logo or website)?”
“What words would you use to describe this brand?”
“Would you be likely to purchase from this brand if you saw it (on a shelf, in a store, online)?”
These questions not only eliminate unnecessary hot takes but also unconstructive and unhelpful feedback. They also ensure you are focused on the high level goals versus simply “liking” or “enjoying” a brand.
To review, giving constructive feedback to a designer is done in three ways:
Approach feedback from a clear headspace
Being clear and specific
Thinking with the end goal in mind
Asking the right questions
With these things in mind, not only will you foster a better relationship with your designer, but you’ll also feel more content and confident with the final deliverables.
Callie Kerbo is an award winning solopreneur based in Austin, Texas. She is the Founder of Honeycomb, and specialises in branding your business to make you unforgettable. You can find her here. http://honeycombcreates.com/
Honeycomb is a full service boutique brand partner, offering concept-to-launch marketing services for startups and growth-stage businesses. Founded on the belief that beautiful design is only as powerful as the business strategy behind it, Callie works to find what makes your business irreplaceable and then develop a creative branding strategy to help share it with the world. By the time your customers find you, they will have only one thing to say: “Wow.”
From napkin drawings of a concept to long-standing businesses, Honeycomb helps businesses of every scale reach their goals and grow their businesses.