Guiding Clients Towards Better Feedback + Smoother Projects
Written by: Abbey Estep
Owner and Graphic Designer at Wayfarer Design Studio
When I graduated from college with my design degree, I felt pretty confident in myself as a designer. I had some work experience, I knew what looked good and what didn’t. In my mind, I had all of the tools that I needed to be a successful designer. Then I started taking on clients and things were going ok, but there were these roadblocks that I kept running into:
My clients weren’t understanding / appreciating all of the thought and strategy that I put into my work. I felt like they were more concerned about what looked best based on their own personal preference, not their target audience. It was all about looks, not about the meaning.
My clients kept giving me vague feedback that wasn’t helpful and gave me no clear direction on how to move forward. I had to guess what they wanted and just hope that I was right.
I was getting trapped in endless revisions, slowing down my projects and exhausting me creatively. There was so much confusion about which direction we needed to go in and it felt like we were just running in circles around all these ideas that weren’t right.
And when things like this happened, it was all too easy to simply blame the client. "They were too indecisive. They don’t value design. They were too controlling and wouldn’t let me do my job. They just didn’t get what I was trying to do…” These were all excuses that I made because if the project went bad, it must have just been a bad client, right? And in a few cases, maybe that was true. Sometimes we have bad clients. BUT sometimes we just do a bad job guiding the client through our process.
I quickly realized that although college had prepared me to be a good designer, it didn’t teach me how to communicate with my clients, which is honestly half the work! How you present your concepts is just as important as what you’re presenting. Since coming to that realization, I’ve been on a mission to refine my design process and be more mindful of my clients’ needs. If I can go the extra mile to help them not only appreciate the design process but truly understand it – that’s when they’ll be able to fully trust in me as an expert.
This shift in thinking has totally changed the way that I work and I’ve experienced some great results because of it. So to help you do the same, here are some dos and don’ts for working with clients:
DON’T cover brand strategy at the beginning of the project and then leave it be. DO remind the client of their goals and audience at every single step of the process.
The first step of my branding projects is creative direction – this is where I do my research on the client’s goals, what matters to their audience, and how they need to connect with them. This part of the design process is so important, but since it’s done at the very beginning, I feel like it can sometimes be forgotten by the time we get to the last round of logo concepts. To avoid this, I show details from the brand strategy at the beginning of every single presentation, no matter where we are in the project. I want my client to read their brand goals + keywords over and over again so that they're always in the back of their mind while looking at design options. Hopefully, this will help them subconsciously make choices based on those goals and not just their personal preferences.
DON’T assume your clients will understand your thought process. DO explain everything as simply and as clearly as you can.
Most clients don’t think like we do and they don’t see what we see. And if they aren’t fully understanding what we present to them, how can we expect them to give us valuable feedback? We have to guide them through the process, explain why we made certain design decisions and how that decision relates to their goals or audience. The more that we can make them understand our thought process, the more they’ll be able to appreciate what we do and make educated choices.
DON’T just explain why the design looks good. DO explain how the design will make the audience feel.
Design isn’t just about how things look, it’s about how it makes people feel. Some clients get this, but some clients just want something pretty and need to be taught the value of meaningful design. With every concept that I present, I make sure to explain not only why I made certain design choices and why it looks good visually, but also how the design will make their audience feel. Because that’s who we’re really designing for at the end of the day, right? We have to force our clients to view concepts from their audience’s perspective and let that influence their decisions. If they keep their audience in mind, whatever we create is going to work much, much better for their business and they need to understand that.
DON’T just give your client written explanations that are lengthy or boring to read. DO give them another way to review your presentation, like a screen recording, where they can hear you talk through things.
Personally, I would much rather listen to an audiobook than actually read a book. I just retain information better that way and last year that got me thinking. ‘Do my clients enjoy reading through my presentations? Do they actually retain information or do they skim through it like I would a book?’ I realized that it might be helpful to have another option for my clients, so I started doing screen recordings of my presentations. And guys, the response was so much better than I expected! I instantly had clients going out of their way to message me and say how helpful the recordings were, how it made everything so much easier to understand. So now I do it for every presentation! It’s not anything fancy, just a quick video of me talking through the presentation, usually under 10 mins. I think that it really helps with communication and makes the client feel more confident while giving feedback. You could also do calls, but personally, I prefer screen recordings because I don’t want to make clients feel put on the spot on the call or like they have to give their feedback immediately.
DON’T ask your client vague, open-ended questions like “So, what do you think?" DO give them specific, targeted feedback questions that make them think and will help them gather their thoughts in a way that are constructive for you.
Again, most of our clients don’t think like we do and have a hard time putting their thoughts into words, which makes giving feedback a challenge. When we ask open-ended questions, we usually get open-ended answers that don’t help us move forward. And when we try to move forward anyway, we make assumptions about what the client wants, which can lead to wasted time and energy on concepts that weren’t what they wanted at all. So to avoid this, I always ask specific feedback questions that make it easier for the client to say what they mean and give me the information that I need as the designer to keep moving forward.
Like I said at the beginning of this post – sometimes we have bad clients, but sometimes we just do a bad job guiding them through our process and that’s on us. The way that we communicate and present our work is part of being a designer too and we have to prioritize that in our process. It takes some trial and error, but I promise that better communication leads to happier clients, which leads to more projects that you’re proud of, which leads to you feeling happier and more fulfilled in what you do. And who doesn’t want that?!