Getting helpful feedback on design work can be tricky. Earlier in my design career, I would email layouts to a client with a simple, "Let me know what you think!" This approach often resulted in subjective, personal-preference-type comments from the client. Like, "I don't like green." or "That photo reminds me of my x-boss. Can we pick a different one?"
Maybe you can relate?
In my experience, getting great feedback can be boiled down to four big questions:
- HOW & WHEN?
If you frame your feedback process with these overarching questions in mind, you are much more likely to get meaningful feedback and keep your project humming along smoothly with a delighted client. Let's dive in!
WHY: Know the purpose or goal of the project
I now know that there's an art to asking for feedback, and it starts with this fundamental principle:
Graphic design work serves a purpose most of the time. It's not just something pretty, as some may think. It's about communicating ideas clearly so the intended audience takes specific actions. Of course, it must look good and be designed well, but I believe the function is just as (or more) important than how it looks.
So, guess what? It doesn't necessarily matter if your client "likes" the design or not! I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. However, convincing your client of this fact isn't always intuitive. And this is why it's so important to steer feedback in a direction that addresses the project's more significant purpose or goal.
Each one of us on this earth sees the world differently. We have our own perspectives, likes, dislikes, and things we've experienced that can influence how we react—positive or negative. This fact is partly what makes us unique. The downside is that we tend to offer our opinions on something that isn't meant for us. Of course, our work should be "personal" in that it relates to the intended audience, but going too far down this "opinion" path can lead to endless revisions and unrealistic expectations.
To make sure the project's goals are of primary concern, the main questions your client should be asking when they review a design are:
"Will this design resonate with my target audience?"
"Does this design meet the project goals that we defined in the project brief?"
Ensure you've prepared a thorough proposal defining what you're delivering and how you will define project success. How will you know if you hit the mark?
Your client may not think of these questions automatically, so it's your job to remind them.
Beyond these big questions, and depending on the specific project, you can go deeper with questions like these (from a potential customer's point of view):
- Does it pique their interest?
- Does it stand out?
- Is it relevant to them?
- Does it answer some of their burning questions and create a desire for them to find out more / ask questions / take an action of some kind?
- Is the tone right for this audience?
WHO: Keep feedback to a tight inner circle
We've all experienced the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome. This happens when many people's opinions are gathered, often without any guidelines for feedback. Worse yet, no one on the client team acts as a gatekeeper, deciding which comments should be taken seriously and which should be dismissed. It all gets dumped on the designer to sort and interpret. It can be the most frustrating thing for a designer when this happens.
The designer has taken the project input, given it careful thought, and crafted a design to fit the needs. So it can feel disheartening to suddenly have it ripped apart by the client's wife's boss, who was asked her opinion on the fly. Suddenly, the sanctity of the design process has been trampled over, and the designer doesn't know where to go from here.
- At the project start, make sure the client knows that you require consolidated feedback from one point person on the client's team. This person is responsible for vetting all of the input, ensuring there are no conflicting pieces of feedback, and then passing the final list on to the designer.
- Advise the client that it works best to keep their input to a small group of team members (3-5 is ideal — all privy to the details and discussions around the project) and that the point person has final "veto" privileges.
- Before starting the project, confirm with your client who the primary point person will be so it's clear to both of you.
- If a client does happen to seek feedback from too many people or folks who are not even involved in the project, remind them that this can dilute or weaken the result since people who don't have context for the project and who haven't been going through the design process with you don't have all of the information they need to provide valuable feedback. People not immersed in the project can also tend to focus on their personal likes, dislikes, and "It reminds me of..." types of feedback that are not helpful or relevant here.
- Caveat: If you're working on a rebrand or high-profile project, there may be value in market testing, say, two final logo choices with real brand customers, but that should be kept to a simple vote asking which one resonates most.
If you and your client have done your research and asked valuable questions about the client's brand and competitors (which I know you will!), your skills will shine, and the client can feel confident trusting you to act as the expert they hired.
WHAT: Avoid subjectivity and define feedback terms
It's common for clients to see work and immediately think they know how to make it better. While this might be true sometimes, ultimately, you are the expert, advising on whether specific changes will likely make the design more effective.
If a client gets prescriptive with their feedback (meaning they're asking you to change things without reasons or trying to solve problems by giving you specific directions), it's time for a reset.
For example, if a client makes this request:
"Move the third copy block up to the top."
Dig deeper to discover the reason behind the request if it's not apparent. Why is the client asking to move that copy block? What are they hoping to solve with this change?
On the flip side, you (the designer) should hold yourself to this same standard throughout the design process. Every design decision YOU make should have a reason, too. Not just "I like how it looks, or I wanted to try this cool new trendy style I saw on Dribbble."
If clients provide feedback open to interpretation, such as "Please make it look more modern," take some time to define what modern means to them, ideally through exchanging a few visual examples to make sure you're both thinking of modern in the same way. And, again, assess whether making it look more modern makes sense for the intended audience and the goal of the piece.
This video goes deeper on this subject if you want to check it out.
HOW / WHEN: What's the process for accepting feedback, and when is it needed?
Now that you've tackled the WHY, WHO, and WHAT of your feedback process, it's time to address one final question: HOW! This detail is often overlooked (or assumed) and can lead to frustration on both sides if not addressed.
Let your client know HOW you want to receive their feedback. Do you want them to fill out a form? Send an email with clear instructions? Go over changes on a call? Be specific about what YOU need to do your best work.
I suggest including your feedback process in your contract and your "How I Work" document and reiterating it when you ask for feedback on a project. After you've worked with a client on a few projects, you may find you don't need to be as detailed, but for new clients, always put your best processes in place from the beginning. Future you will thank you.
When requesting feedback, start with a template.
For some projects (like logo designs), I prefer presenting concepts on a live call and following up with an email specifying what the client should do next. But for most projects, I have good results emailing work using a template similar to the one below. Starting with a script ensures you don't forget to cover any critical points and helps you have a well-written place to start if you're not fluent with your words on a given day.
NOTE: You should customize this email to fit your project and client. Not every project warrants such a thorough email, but I'd rather give you more than not enough. Replace the orange text with your own words. So here goes:
Attached [or at the link], please find [the first draft layout] [three/a few/several concepts] for [project] that I've prepared for you.
[Include the following paragraph as needed to restate project needs, goals, and drivers for success]
As you'll recall, our goal with this piece is to [explain: keep your customers updated on current events; drive visitors to your website; encourage people to sign-up for ____; raise awareness for your ____ campaign]. We also agreed that the piece should [explain: be easily accessible on the website and print; be highly visual (minimal text) and utilize your bold branding and photography].
[NOTE: Much of this can be copied/pasted from your Project Brief, but keep it simple and concise; a basic reminder of goals, so they're top of mind.]
I've kept these goals in mind, and I believe the design will resonate well with your customers [or audience]. Let's discuss if you believe what you see here does not support the project goals.
In addition to the goals recapped above, please review the design and provide feedback as follows:
[Include the following points as they apply]
• General placement and flow of text and images. At this first draft stage (since elements are subject to change), photos may be low-resolution and have not been color-corrected. Ideal line breaks and final proofreading/spellchecking have not yet been addressed.
• NOTATIONS: Bright pink questions may appear throughout the layout. Please address any of these items as soon as you are able. [I use eye-catching pink boxes in the layout to address any missing items or questions.]
• PHOTO CAPTIONS: Placeholders for captions may be present. Please provide caption copy where needed.
• PHOTOS: For photos you've provided, please let us know if any photo credits should be included.
You may notice watermarks on some photos. These are stock images I am proposing. If you approve, I will purchase the high-resolution, watermark-free versions. [or: Please let us know if the photo selections are approved.]
• COMMENTING: Please share the layout with the appropriate team members and then provide all feedback via email at one time in consolidated, written format, along with a marked-up PDF if possible. [or ask them to complete a feedback form - provide link]
• ADDITIONAL NOTES: [Details, any additional items or questions you want them to comment on]
We look forward to receiving your feedback by [date] which will keep us on track for delivery by [date].
Also, if any questions arise while reviewing the layout, please don't hesitate to email me or call [number/scheduling link].
Thanks so much for the opportunity to work with you on this project!
Some clients have a great sense of design and will revert to critiquing the design first rather than the effectiveness of the entire piece. Bringing the work back to the bigger picture: its goals, scope, and purpose can help everyone see it holistically and offer feedback from that place.
Remember: The work isn't for the client or us. It's for a specific customer/audience with a set purpose or goal. So, again, the big questions we should both be asking are, "Will this design resonate with the target audience?" AND "Does it meet the project goals?"
Avoid subjectivity or client "opinions" in feedback and take time to clarify any terms that are open to interpretation.
Give your client specific instructions on HOW you accept feedback and WHEN you need it to keep the project on track.
Are you a master at requesting feedback? Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment below!
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