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How clients should give feedback on web design

September 14, 2015Payman Taei

I have to admit, after running a web consulting agency for 12+ years and being involved with hundreds of clients in all sizes and across various industries, you learn a thing or two along the way. One of them is the process of creativity that goes into creating a website (or app) and how it can so easily break and in turn cause friction between the client and the art director or designer. Non techies refer to it as “web design”, while the creative types refer to it as  UI design short for “user interface design”  or “layout design”. Regardless of what you call it, there is a process that goes into the creation of a website and although it sounds quite elemental and simple, if often isn’t.  (after all it’s just a screen view of what a site looks like, and it just needs to look professional and clean, right?).  Wrong! You see, the layout of a website/app is the medium through which your company and brand is presented.  Not only that but it needs to be presentable, clean and clutter free, while at the same time provide a user friendly and intuitive experience and deliver your message without distracting the user. Last but not least, it needs to engage your visitor to take some sort of action (be it to buy your product, register to download a white paper, or become a prospect through filling out a contact form). To make it even more complicated, the job of the designer you hire is to marry all of these goals while appeasing the client’s personal preferences. This is why I have personally seen numerous companies be frustrated with some of the freelancers or novice designers they hired who either were not experienced enough and/or didn’t have a full understanding of  the process that allows for achieving these goals. A great designer will work with you to understand your needs, your target audience, company goals and learn about your design preferences. From there he/she will need to carefully stitch together wireframes and concepts to present to you.   What most clients seem to forget is that the draft version presented has both undergone a number of iterations prior to being shown to you and Luckily along the way we’ve been able to improve this process to near perfection at least from the agency side, however the same does not always hold true for the client, specially if they’ve not been through the process before or had a negative experience with a prior designer.  It’s important for clients to recognize that just as the designer/agency has a responsibility, so does the client.   The type of constructive feedback provided will not only help improve the project timeline but it is imperative for a better designed interface.  

1.  Act as one

When working with a large group of people, project managers risk running into the issue of too many conflicting opinions.   Essencially, it is easy to start losing sight of the main objective when eaach person contributes their own individusal preferences and view points. It’s not the designer’s job to please everyone, so it’s essential a team focuses soles on the components with the most reasoning. If one person says “I don’t like the font”, that won’t help the designer decide what the entire group or even the brand’s customers want.  However , if the group  as a whole agrees that the font is say “too simple”, or “it won’t appeal to the customers” , then it is an issue to bring up with the designers.  Otherwise don’t let personal opinions get in the way of the overall design goal.

2. Be constructive: Don’t demand,  just explain

It’s very easy to demand changes, but it’s more difficult to explain why something needs to be adjusted or fixed.   As a client you need to understand that it’s difficult for a designer to understand exactly what’s wrong with specific aspect of the design if all that is pointed out is “I don’t like it” or “it just doesn’t work for me”. When you provide feedback, make sure to first evaluate the problem at hand and ask yourself why you don’t like it and then clarify in simple terms what specific element(s) you want changed.   This will allow the designer to create an alternative for you and help to get you closer to your desired design.   This also helps the designer better gauge your like and dislikes and what appeals to you.   This not only helps with the current project but possible future updates or projects down the pipeline.

3. Don’t be so Vague

Designers are not psychics, they are more like a meteorologist.  Similar to how a meteorologist predicts weather patterns based on data and computer models, a designer goes by real feedback, visual cues and examples.  Therefore if you give them enough guidelines and constructive feedback their chance of creating a better design that is more inline with your expectation greatly increases and everyone will benefit. However if your feedback is unclear, the designer is left trying to determine what could be expected of them, and let me tell you from experience; give poor vague feedback and one thing is for sure, it won’t go well and it will cause more frustration on both parties. To avoid giving vague feedback, try using phrases such as “it’s a bit too….”  For example if a container of content in the the design is not working for you and taking away from other parts of the design, rather than saying  “I don’t like it”,  try saying “That box is too distracting and it’s affecting the area next to it..”.

4. Stop dwelling on just the negatives

As humans we are trained to first notice the imperfections.   When we see a beautiful green lawn with a yellow / bare spot,  our eyes are trained to pick that area out of the bunch.  It’s pretty sad, but it’s how we have evolved as humans.   Perhaps we are just perfectionists or just down right negative people.   Regardless of the reason, when it comes to design of your website you need to move past the negatives. The fact is design is a process, and if the layout presented to you on the very first round is perfect and you have absolutely no issues with it,  either the designer is made his perfect client match or your just having a darn good day.    In reality most often you will not like something about the design.   A great tip would be to first not put too much emphasis on the areas you don’t like. Provide at least 3 positive comments on areas you like or want to keep on the design;  this way the designer knows the areas he can keep as the next starting point to make changes from.   Then point out the features/areas you don’t like and as noted before; give good constructive feedback.

5.  Respect the designer and the process.

We all have heard the statement “The customer is always right”.    We follow the same motto at our agency, but there is a place and a time for it.    When you work with a good designer,  remember that they are on your team;    it’s like a partnership between two sides and both are working on a path to create a great design;  one that will not only work great for your organization and its audience but also a project that the designer can be proud of to show on their portfolio. It’s easy to get consumed by the deadlines and the challenges faced during a project, but that’s no excuse to scorn a designer if you don’t like areas of the design.   Follow the tips above, and I can comfortably say that there is a very likelihood you will be proud of the end result and you will even enjoy the process; while you may end up retaining that designer/agency for years to come. It’s worked great for us and the clients who follow most or all of the above tips are the happiest.   And if the client is happy,  we’re happy too!

Payman Taei
Payman Taei is the Founder of HindSite Interactive (he doesn't like using the word "CEO" it's way too Formal), an award winning web design and web development company. He's also the Founder of Easy WebContent, Do It Yourself platform allowing everyone to easily create, manage professional websites, presentations & infographics.

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