How to give designers meaningful feedback

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Relationships are hard. Any strong union requires faith, empathy and most importantly, communication. The relationship between a client and a designer is no different. Throughout my years as a designer, I’ve had several clients ask me how they should be giving feedback. While it’s difficult to find the sweet spot between aimless commentary and rigid criticism, there are ways to develop a healthy dialogue and an understanding relationship. I’ve been lucky enough to work with supportive clients that have helped me narrow down some helpful tips for a smoother and more meaningful feedback process.

Be on the same page

It’s obvious that any given project is going to be near and dear to a client’s heart. That’s why it’s so difficult for them to imagine a designer adopting their level of dedication and enthusiasm. What clients don’t sense is that designers are an especially passionate type of people, and any project we take on is one we put every ounce of energy and devotion into. We recognize the client’s adoration towards their line of work, and strive to match that.

When it comes to giving feedback, it’s especially important for a client to know the level of care and thought we put into every project we take on. Beyond making the client happy, our ultimate goal is to make the project a success. Without this understanding, clients can either act like strangers or overbearing parents when communicating their thoughts. However, when a client sees a designer for what they are – passionate, dedicated and hard working – the feedback process becomes much smoother. Both parties enter collaboration mode and adopt the same goals, which ultimately makes for a successful outcome.

Provide visual references

Designers are visual people. We work with an artistic medium and tend to be thought of as the “creative type”. Whether or not we’re actually the artsy archetype people imagine us to be, one thing is for sure: we like visual references.

There are times when designers will have trouble understanding a client’s vision. This is perfectly normal. The reality is that abstract concepts are difficult to explain in any situation. Purely verbal communication leaves room for ambiguity and a lack of detail. That’s why visual references are so key when giving feedback. Not only does it save hours of conceptual explanation, it gives designers a clear direction to follow.

It’s also common for a client to be inspired by something random. A piece of daily life might give them insight into a larger vision. For instance, if a client sees an advertisement and thinks “these colour choices would be awesome for my project”, the client should not hesitate to share these thoughts with their designer. We want to know what’s going on inside their head and what ideas you find appealing. We appreciate website screenshots, magazine pages, and anything that gives us a tangible representation of what their vision looks like.

Give specific requests

Many clients are intimidated to communicate with designers because they don’t understand design terminology. Truth is, they’re not expected to. Specificity is the most useful language between clients and designers. Being specific, detailed and precise will alleviate a lot of the uncertainty designers face when receiving feedback.

Commenting “I don’t like the dark colour” is not very useful. In design, semantics are important. Instead, clients should describe what exactly isn’t working. For instance, “I don’t like the heavy use of black and grey because it doesn’t go with our vibrant messaging strategy”.  Bingo. This is exactly the kind of feedback that is productive to a designer. We always want to hear about what needs to be improved and more importantly, why.

Communicate your purpose

Although a design may be beautiful or engaging, it may not fulfill the purpose of a project. In order to create a successful final product, a designer must know the purpose of the design and it’s intended audience. It’s the end user that should be at the forefront of every decision. In order to achieve this hierarchy of thought, clients need to inform designers of their business goals and intended audience. This will spark effective communication and lead to creativity in problem solving and collaboration.

The kind of specificity and purposeful communication that we appreciate the most is the kind that leads to better problem solving. If a client sees a problem with a design and asks me to change the colour from black to blue, they are only giving me a chance to provide one solution – a colour change. However, if I am given a thorough explanation of the problem, I can come up with several answers. For instance, if an end user is not noticing a certain banner, there may be better options to consider than swapping colours. When designers become part of the process and understand the purpose of their work, they can provide multiple solutions to any problem. We want to be able to give options, and it’s far easier to do that when we have a clear purpose in mind.

Trust your designer

Designers are typically hired based on positive word of mouth, an outstanding portfolio or extensive experience. This means that at the end of the day, the individual a client is working with is trained, educated and passionate. It’s important to trust that a good designer will produce good work. Moreover, it’s helpful to remember that a dialogue is more effective than a quick remark. Designers spend hours researching, dreaming of and executing design solutions. Believing in a designer’s efforts and communicating in a way that reflects this belief can make the feedback process much more effortless.

Designers are people too

Above all, it’s good to remember that designers are people, not aliens. We want to grow our skills and provide the best service possible, which is why feedback is so important to us. We love what we do and want to create amazing results. When clients are trusting, specific and effectively communicative, designers are able to produce the best work possible – and create a meaningful relationship along the way.


To learn more about Ann, read about her in our “Meet Our Totems” series.

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