How to Approach Client Feedback
Dealing with client feedback starts long before the feedback is actually received. In fact, the process of handling feedback begins before you even start designing. The key is to set proper expectations and educate your client about each of your roles. You are a professional designer and they came to you because you have a proven record of producing excellent work for your clients. It is vital that each client buys into your process.
Be sure to outline the steps of your design process ahead of time. It helps everyone to have a roadmap so that both parties know what to expect as the project unfolds. Letting clients know that you've done this before and you have a plan helps reassure them. You know what you're doing and you take care of your clients, make sure that is clear.
Help Your Client Give Better Feedback
You are a designer, you deal with the process of design and communication on a daily basis. You should not expect that same level of familiarity from your clients. This could be the first time they have worked with a designer. Help them understand what you need from them and how they can be the become an asset to the design process.
I have written an entire post about how clients can give better feedback to their designers. I direct new clients to this post to give them a kind of crash course on providing more valuable critiques and you are welcome to do the same.
Break It Down
This is by far the most important step to improve the feedback process. Please don't just send an email saying, "Here's your project, what do you think?" You need to prepare an actual presentation of some sort to explain why you did what you did. Explain the purpose behind each design decision and how it will help achieve the goals of this project.
I create a password-protected page on my site where I essentially provide a case study for each project. You can make a slide show, a video, or simply have a conversation and walk your client through the design. The format doesn't matter as long as you're able to effectively communicate your ideas.
Not only does this help clients understand and appreciate the choices that you've made, it also reassures them that you really put a lot of work and thought into this. They can feel confident knowing that you put careful thought into every aspect of the design so they don't have to. This is why they hired you, after all.
Preempt Their Questions
Your clients should not come back to you asking things like "Why this font?" or "Why that color?" because you should tell them. If you don't have answers to these questions, your job is not done.
Having an explanation for each design decision also discourages arbitrary revision requests. If they've been given a good reason for something to be the way it is, clients will feel obligated to have an even better reason to change it.
Audit your Work
Preparing a presentation can actually improve your designs because you may run across some aspect of your work that you can't support. If that happens, don't just come up with some BS reasoning. Go back and reevaluate the work; make improvements until you can explain each detail of the design before you present it.
The better your designs and more well-thought-out your solutions, the smoother the client feedback process will be.
This is where all your hard work pays off. If you've done your due diligence to create a design solution that effectively addresses your client's problem then you can be confident in your work. And if you've taken the time to help your client understands why your design is so effective, there's no reason to expect this to be a contentious phase of the process.
In fact, this should be the easy part. All you have to do is read or listen to you client thoughts. But you and I both know that it's not always easy to hear critiques, especially if they're unconstructive, unclear or just plain wrong. Sometimes it's hard not to take criticism personally.
Take Time to Process
I like to sleep on any client feedback that I receive and I recommend that you do the same. I'm generally pretty objective and even-tempered, but sometimes feedback still has a way of getting under my skin if I'm not careful. In the light of a new day, I often find that client's email magically become much more sensible, even helpful. Funny how that happens.
Keep an Open Mind
It's finally time to respond to your client's thoughts and ideas about your design. Do not rush this step. Take the time to carefully and objectively consider each suggestion. Don't rashly disregard criticisms because you think you know better. Have the humility to accept that there is always room for improvement and your client may have valuable insights that can make the project better.
Have a Backbone
On the other hand, do not just mindlessly accept and execute every suggestion. As a professional designer who has been hired by a client, you are obligated to carefully audit all feedback. Stand your ground if the changes would hurt the project or move it away from the clients goals.
If the client is just dictating the design, why do they even need you? At that point you've devolved from professional designer into simply a technician. They really might as well hire their nephew who "knows photoshop" if you don't have the cojones to push back against bad revision requests.
It is your job to discern which ideas can lead to a better outcome and which should be politely disregarded. Consider each suggestion and ask yourself, "Would this change help the client reach their goals?" If the answer is 'yes', make the change. If the answer is 'no', provide an explanation for why the change should not be made. Remember not to become emotionally attached to your design; the project goals come before personal preferences.
It should go without saying, but always be cordial and professional when responding to critiques. Like it or not, customer service is part of the job. If you're not pleasant to work with, you're not doing your job right. Thank your client for sharing their thoughts. Reiterate the positive revisions that they asked for and point out how you executed them.
When it comes to feedback that you deem detrimental to the project, be polite but strong and direct. It's only natural that clients want to take ownership of projects and they may be disappointed to hear that some of their opinions should not be applied.
Many designers get defensive about their work and become confrontational when they respond to client feedback. Don't do this, it only makes everyone's lives harder. Have enough confidence in your abilities that you can hear and respond to client feedback without getting overly emotional. Take an extra day to cool off and emotionally detach yourself from the design if that's what it takes.
Large portions of the design community have painted clients as some kind of enemy to be vanquished or hurdle to be overcome. You should be appreciative of your clients, without them you wouldn't have a career.
Maybe it does create a little extra work if your client is heavily invested in their project, but as Ed Catmull said, "Ease isn't the goal. Excellence is." If you want to produce great designs, you're going to have to work at it. Having clients who are invested can be a tremendous boon to your projects if you choose to take advantage.
Clients are just people. If you treat them with courtesy and respect they will generally respond in kind. Instead of treating clients like adversaries, you should make them your allies.
Follow me on twitter to continue the conversation: