Feedback is a crucial part of the process for designers – it’s how you get better and how you can better meet your clients’ needs. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the toughest parts of the job! How do you handle feedback that you disagree with? How do you tactfully criticize a clients’ idea to help them get a better end product? Unlike tweaking a graphic or enhancing a photo, you’re dealing with people, and that means being conscientious with your thoughts, ego, and emotions.
1. Plan Ahead
The best way to deal with negative feedback is to avoid it altogether! How do you do that? Get or give as much information as you can upfront. Both parties should understand the goals of the project.
It’s also helpful to show similar examples of the intended final product to get a sense of an aesthetic that you both can agree to. Get specific with questions and responses to ensure you both are on the same page.
2. Listen First
In the middle of receiving feedback, it can be tempting to butt in and defend your work. Often this means that you’re not really giving yourself the opportunity to hear what’s being said.
Instead, don’t agree or disagree. Take notes while the other person is talking to ensure that you can revisit the thoughts later. Once they are done with everything, then you can go back and address the areas that concern you.
3. Ask Questions
Sometimes you may not understand why a note is being given. Instead of assuming that a piece of feedback isn’t a good idea, make sure you have a complete understanding of why your client or co-worker is giving the note.
Is it simply an aesthetic issue, or is there something else behind it that may be industry-specific? Perhaps a certain color or image choice you made looks a lot like a competitors’, which you may not be aware of.
4. Explain Your Note
On the other side of the table, you want to ensure that you are fully explaining why you are giving each piece of feedback. For instance, you may ask that they change certain colors, but make sure the designer understands that’s because the design feels a little dull and you want to liven it up.
This can give them the opportunity to suggest a change that might be even better than the one you had. Maybe the graphic can be better improved by changing out the photos rather than altering the colors.
5. Start and End with the Positive
Let’s face it: no one likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong. Starting off with critical comments can often make the person on the receiving end go on the defensive. This does no one any good.
Instead, you can increase the likelihood that your comments are actually heard by focusing on what you liked first, and then delving into the problems. When you’re done, go back to those positive things to remind the recipient of your feedback how much you do appreciate their work, opinion, and expertise.
6. Pick Your Battles
You won’t always see eye-to-eye with the person giving or receiving feedback. It’s important to remember that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong.
Don’t fight every little thing that you disagree with. Instead, focus on the issues that aren’t just a matter of taste but are actually poor decisions for the project, such as making a site too text heavy or drawing attention away from the key element of a graphic.
7. Remember You are on the Same Team
And that’s worth reminding the other person. The objective is to get the best possible work, and you can only get there by working together. So keep an open mind and listen!
8. Suggest an Alternative
If you don’t agree with feedback you are receiving, don’t outright ignore it. Instead, find out the reason behind the note (as we mentioned earlier!) and offer other solutions to address it. You can even provide visual examples of what you want to do in order to make it easier for the other person to understand what you mean.
9. Remember You are Dealing with People, No Two are Alike
Some people are better able to visualize than others. If you’re having trouble communicating in words what you want to do, you may find that you have an easier time if you actually show them a rough version instead. Others may be more moved by sharing statistics and studies that back what you have to say.
Try different methods until you find one that works. The same is true when receiving feedback – you can always ask that the person give it to you in a way that you can better understand it.
10. Talk About It
It’s easier than ever to send an email and call it a day, but often this isn’t enough. For minor changes, it can be sufficient, but especially if you and the other person aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the project overall, actually talking about it can allow for better communication.
Speaking on the phone can work, but often being in person, where you can both look at and point directly to what you are talking about, is the best option.
11. Always Look to the Client’s Needs for Guidance
Ultimately, you need to meet the client’s needs even if you don’t like the final result. However, that’s not to say that you should simply say yes to every demand. After all, they hired you for your expertise and experience, so don’t be afraid to speak up and offer advice. Just remember that, in the end, it’s not your project, it’s your client’s.
12. Set Expectations About Revisions in Advance
If you let it, discussing and addressing feedback can be an endless process, so you need to let your client know in advance where you draw the line, particularly if you provided a “per project” fee rather than hourly. Does the quote you provided include one revision, or will you continue to tweak it until it’s absolutely perfect?
Probably it’s somewhere in between, and professionals include this language in their contract to ensure that the client fully understands what he or she is purchasing. Always allow for your client to purchase more of your time at an hourly rate beyond the project fee if necessary, and include how much that rate would be in the contract as well.
13. Don’t Get Caught Up in Jargon
This may make you think like you sound like a pro, but in reality, you might just be confusing your client – and that’s not professional. Use clear language, and try different ways of explaining the same concept if your client seems confused. When possible, learn the jargon of their industry, so you can better speak their language!
The heart of giving or getting feedback effectively is to be constructive. Your goal should always be that you both walk away from the interaction feeling like you understand what the other person was saying and that you had the opportunity to be heard. Ultimately, this will result in the best final product.
Share some other tips that have helped you in your feedback sessions with clients in the comments sections or on our Twitter feed @designinstruct