Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Getting Proper Feedback from Clients

Daniel Schutzsmith, who recently launched a new web design firm, DSGN + DVLP, posted on his blog a very interesting issue: Getting the most efficient feedback from clients after seeing the initial round of designs. He mentions that he sends a list of Dos and Don’ts (which you can read on his site) to provide some guidance for this somewhat obscure process.

I recently presented a range of logos to one of our clients and as soon as I was done, the first question was “now what?”. For non-designers (heck, even for designers) it can be very hard to react to visual design ideas, as it’s not something they are used to commenting on on a regular basis, making it difficult to move beyond first impression concerns like color or even the size of the logo as presented on a piece of paper.

My answer was to first give me their gut reactions: What did you like? What did you hate? What is the thing you remember the most? From here it’s easy to segue into a more detailed conversation about what, in this case, each logo signified to them, what it might mean for their customers, and how it would be applied to their needs. Every client is different and some might be very adept at analyzing design and providing useful feedback — of course, you have to consider that everything is useful feedback, even if it sounds, well, useless at first — but I found this technique, of having a quick guide of what kind of questions the client should ask themselves and which ones to avoid, to be quite handy.

What Dos and Don’ts would you provide your clients to get proper feedback? How do you guide them through that murky first round?

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON May.21.2008 BY Armin
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Don't say, "I like it, it's interesting."

On May.21.2008 at 09:23 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Peter L. Phillips, a design manager and consultant, had a rather radical piece of advice in his book Creating the Perfect Design Brief: abolish the word "like" from client presentations. The idea is to limit the scope of comments to strategic issues (as defined by the creative brief) and get away from aesthetic considerations. In my experience, this is pretty much impossible, but I think it gets to an important issue: the seeds of a successful client presentation should be planted at the creative brief stage: what are the project goals, who is the audience, what is the overall strategy? If you're waiting for the presentation to set the review parameters, you're already working at a disadvantage -- and, to a certain degree, being unfair to your client.

On May.21.2008 at 11:35 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Jose, it's easy to set up review parameters in writing, but when you have five people sitting in a room looking at sheets of paper with a logo they have never seen before that is meant to represent who they are, no amount of advance written rules of engagement can sway a discussion straight into strategic issues.

Also, it might be a matter of semantics, but the "review parameters" in the case of this discussion, relates directly to that first presentation and the reactions you want to elicit, assuming the "review parameters" as they pertain to goals, audience, intention, etc. have been already defined and agreed upon.

On May.21.2008 at 12:04 PM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

Jose's comment is pertinent; I'd liken it to what I said over at Jason's post (which he did a great job of plugging with the first comment there, nice, Jason) which was, essentially, that you get the answers to the questions you ask. "Do you like it?" seems like a good way to get into an argument about personal aesthetics, which in more cases than not leads down a path you'd rather not go. I'm not saying that you have to forgo the clients likes and dislikes, you just can't open with that. Asking a general question is a great way to get a general answer. In the perfect client/professional relationship, they're relying on your likes and dislikes. I might ask thinks like "What do you think? Does this meet your expectations? Which logo meets the goals you've set?" I'd agree that removing preference by not saying "like" (and not just in the valley girl way) is a solid piece of advice.

On May.21.2008 at 12:57 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

...no amount of advance written rules of engagement can sway a discussion straight into strategic issues.

I agree, but it does help to start the conversation with "as we discussed at the kick-off meeting..." or "as we agreed in the project brief..."

...assuming the "review parameters" as they pertain to goals, audience, intention, etc. have been already defined and agreed upon.

I'm constantly surprised how many designers (even experienced ones) jump into the design phase of a project without reaching a full, explicit agreement on the "goals, audience, intention" of a project. I'm also surprised at how often designers (particularly younger ones) present the aesthetics of a piece, instead of how the piece fulfills the overall goals of the project. Knowing something of your background, Armin, I am certain that you dot the i's and cross the t's in this regard, but I wouldn't assume that that's an universal practice.

On May.21.2008 at 01:24 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

Attempting to get a client's feedback without asking what they like or dislike is impossible. Unless of course your client is completely unopinionated, or otherwise indifferent to the design solutions you put in front of them.

The bottom line is, even it's the most perfect design for the audience, if the client (i.e. the person writing the checks) doesn't like it then it will never fly. With that in mind, there's no point in dodging or delaying the issue. I agree with Armin, you're better off asking them up front.

On May.21.2008 at 01:38 PM
Steven’s comment is:

I think the "Do's" on that list have value in managing expectations and defining methodology to the review process, and therefore could be useful guidelines. I would not give a client "Don'ts" as you are helping to define avenues of contention. I especially don't agree with the the last two points.

Your client contact may be forced into showing the comps in a group meeting with other coworkers. This is the best way to manage their time and flush out all answers in an efficient manner. So if the resulting "group think" response or opinion is off-topic, then it's the designer's responsibility to bring to focus back, through the use of the agreed-upon creative brief. But asking your client to not have committee meeting may be setting yourself up for resentment blow-back. Frequently, the client contact needs to get approval and consensus from their manager, and manager's manager, as well as other stakeholders that may be working with her. Actually, if there are a lot of critical people involved, the best way to handle this situation is for the designer to meet directly with the whole group, so he/she can redirect bad ideas as they are being formed, rather than after they've gotten some amount of buy-in.

With the fourth point, if a client thinks your design ideas are 75% to 90% off the mark, then those ideas are basically DEAD, and you need to rethink the direction you've taken. If you think that they are on the mark, then you need to go back to the creative brief and enumerate how they do meet the previously agreed-upon objectives. If the client still comes back and says that the ideas are wrong, then you need to tell the client that the original creative brief needs to be modified, as they agreed to (and hopefully you had them sign or approve in an email) the original creative brief. You then have two options to move forward: 1) minor reset with inline adjustments, moving on to round two comps; 2) major reset of creative brief with significant changes, with an additional "corrections" fee for the time needed to restart the project from zero as well as an adjusted project timeline. The vast majority of clients will choose option 1, as this causes less hassles.

While it's a worthwhile idea and goal to educate clients, the client may not be able to elevate the dialog to just discussing larger objectives. Any feedback is better than no feedback. If the feedback isn't constructive and off-track, then it's the designers responsibility to congenially steer the direction back on-track.

And hell, if the darn client is totally fixated on not liking one comp, draw a big "x" across it, or turn the board over, or rip it up and put it in the garbage. "Okay, we don't need to go there. So, moving on..." Clients will smile and say "Good, I hated that idea." Now you can focus on other ideas that do work.

One last point, in presenting the first round ideas, you should always be delineating how each potential solution is a contextual variation of the objectives laid out in the creative brief, so that you are helping to define the narrative or language of the review in professional terms.

On May.21.2008 at 07:38 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Oh, and it is very important that you have the first review meeting in person. You can read people's facial expressions and body language to know how to judge the discussion. Plus, people are generally more cooperative and engaged when face-to-face, rather than with speaker phone or video conferencing.

And it can also be disastrous of a client sees your comps before you've had a chance to talk about them. All sorts of crazy ideas can happen without proper background information, and you can be screwed before you've even opened your mouth.

On May.21.2008 at 07:48 PM
Daniel Schutzsmith’s comment is:

Thanks Armin for opening up the conversation on Speak Up - it does seem to be something that very few of us discuss with our colleagues.

The comments are excellent! A few things I'd like to clarify that may clear up some of the debate:

1. We do already set the precedent at the beginning of the project, in the contract, of how the design process and feedback is suppose to happen. Now the issue I've always had with that is that the contract, while acting as a great blueprint for the project, is really more about covering the respective asses of the design and the client. We use this guideline as a friendly and non-confrontational way to remind them without being condescending.

2. There are a few words we don't use with clients and that is why you don't see them in our guidelines. Those words are "like", "cool", "actually", "simple", "just", and "think". We'll have to go more into those in another blog post as to what our reasoning is - its just too long to go over here.

3. By "take it to committee", we're specifically referring to those types of situations where everyone on the team is there and gives there say. Its just plain science that the more opinions you get the more spreadout, and less concise, the feedback will be. Instead, we urge our clients to go over this with only the essential staff that understand the scope, objectives, and target audience that we are working with.

4. I do agree that in person meetings are the absolute best way to go, but for us they are a rarity. The main reason is because our clients are spread out all across the US and we're a small webshop with limited funds and time to devote to making trips like that. Two in Detroit, one in LA, and a few up and down the east coast would leave us to not get very much done at the end of a week. We are now living in the most technologically advanced times so we rely heavily on our project management app, ichat, and collaboration software to help with that.

5. These are only guidelines. Its not the ten commandments. To borrow a phrase from my previous employers at the Chopping Block, but "we're pretty serious about not taking ourselves too seriously".

On May.21.2008 at 10:19 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

When a client is a big crybaby, we have a solution here at Pesky Illustrator Cross Media Communications: a frontal lobotomy. Take the top off, scoop out a chunk of grey stuff and then glue gun the top back on. They'll never notice.

In no time, your client will love that combination of ITC Zapf Dingbat and New Times Roman. The trick is to make presentation boards LARGE so they have a dramatic PRESENCE. Show it in red, blue and green so they have, at least, one choice.

When in doubt, liquor them up. Nothing says quality like a belly full of Grey Goose Vodka.

On May.22.2008 at 05:37 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

When a client is a big crybaby, we have a solution here at Pesky Illustrator Cross Media Communications: a frontal lobotomy. Take the top off, scoop out a chunk of grey stuff and then glue gun the top back on. They'll never notice.

In no time, your client will love that combination of ITC Zapf Dingbat and New Times Roman. The trick is to make presentation boards LARGE so they have a dramatic PRESENCE. Show it in red, blue and green so they have, at least, one choice.

When in doubt, liquor them up. Nothing says quality like a belly full of Grey Goose Vodka.

On May.22.2008 at 06:12 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

I gotta stop letting the cat have access to my computer and then post comments twice.....

On May.23.2008 at 09:05 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

We recently switched to Arial Black!

On May.23.2008 at 09:50 AM
kevin’s comment is:

to vent some frustration...

I recently presented a web concept to a client. The page was broken into a flexible grid with a clear hiearchy of content alongside offers and promotions.

After saying how great it looked they asked (nay, politely demanded), could I just adjust it slightly so that all the elements were exactly the same width so that when they needed to they could place, (and I quote)

"anything we want, anywhere we want on the page"...

On May.23.2008 at 01:24 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Jose Nieto has it right. The presentation is part of an ongoing conversation. How it will go is largely based on how the discussion went before.

Liking or not liking is a bit of a blunt instrument. What it makes stakeholders feel, understand, or believe (in the context of the goals fleshed out in previous discussion) is the thing that's important; someone liking it (or thinking that it is interesting) is good but insufficient. If the conversation to date has been about the communication goals, it's easier to move "I don't like that" into "That doesn't do x like we need it to" which, in turn, allows you to refute the claim or design something that works better.

It's best if the committee thing can be dealt with up front. It's not always possible, but it is ideal to first meet with everyone who has a say and explain that the project is a process that needs to be followed through: not everyone is interested in being involved in the process and those who are not should give their proxies to those who are; whether two people or twenty, the people who agree to go through the process will be trusted to make the decision.

And when you ask your contact who "everyone who has a say" is and they say "just me," don't believe them.

On May.24.2008 at 08:42 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

On May.28.2008 at 11:31 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

As the old saying goes, there's an asshole in every room. But it does seem that it's just as likely to be the designer as it is to be the client.

Isn't "make the logo bigger" just as likely to mean "I don't know if the brand identity is strong enough" or even "something isn't balancing visually; maybe it's the information hierarchy or maybe it's the composition" as it is to be an actual desire to have an enlarged trademark?

Since the designer is the person whose job it is to communicate about design, isn't it the designer's job to find out which "make the logo bigger" it is rather than pretending that anyone who suggests anything other than a bonus for the designer is an idiot whose vocal chords should be surgically removed?

On May.30.2008 at 05:03 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Well said, Gunnar.

On May.30.2008 at 05:42 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

"Well said, Gunner."

On Jun.01.2008 at 09:52 AM
Paul Wright’s comment is:

This is a very interesting subject, and it seems there are real no answers! It really does depend on the client

Im having this exact problem at the moment, and its doing my brain in! Im not getting any feedback at all from a client, and its a real struggle getting anything out of them. Meeting up with the client face-to face is a nightmare, as they are always to busy to meet. And I just want to get the job finished.

Ive noticed that no-one has mentioned about asking the client to look at thier own designs, and then comparing them to their competitors designs. At least then, they have something to compare them too. Especially if their client is better known in the market place.

At least this might provoke some sort of reaction. Does anyone else agree?

On Jan.15.2009 at 10:40 AM