Design is for people.

It is because of those four words that I have learned to embrace a step in the design process that a lot of us dread: feedback. This step can feel like a never-ending cycle of design, iterate, design, iterate, design and iterate. Maybe you’re a designer that has 15 versions of a final design. Sometimes you send off your first deliverable and come back to a mountain of thoughts, changes, opinions, and more. Here are some tips that I hope can help you sort it all out.

Ask Questions...Good Ones.

Asking questions is one thing. Asking good questions is another. I’ve learned that I am a better designer when I learn to ask good questions. Effective questions identify the root of the problem. Before you ask a question, ask yourself this question: is my question too broad? Is this specific enough? What can I ask that will bring action? Even more, these types of questions save you and your customer a ton of time. I would even think asking good questions can save you a lot of time.
Let’s say you submit a landing page design and the client wants to change a stock photo. Giving the client four new options might seem like the easy route, but what if they don’t like those four options you send? That means more time wasted in finding more options, and less time to arrive at the end result. I suggest asking questions that will help you understand the depth and impact of that change. Here are some examples of good and bad questions—based upon this example.

Questions You Shouldn’t Ask

  1. What changes should I make?
  2. Is this photo good enough?
  3. What do you think? What are your thoughts?

Questions You Should Ask

  1. What changes can I make that will make the biggest impact for this project?
  2. Can you explain to me why these photos aren’t working? Does this photo help convey the story or message you are trying to communicate?
  3. Have I overlooked any details that may not have met our goals objectively?

Specific and effective questions should help you define the problem and eventually help you take action to make your client happy.

Set Your Priorities

When you are working on a project, it is important to prioritize—even in the reviewing and feedback stage. To me, this is why it’s important to layout your project goals first thing (creative briefs are your friends). If your goals are clearly laid out, you can figure out where those opinions and suggestions fall. Does some of the feedback seem redundant? That’s okay! Identifying redundant feedback can help you identify the big changes needed now and the small changes that can be pushed back for a later time.

For example, there is a distinction between personal bias and requests that line up with the expectations from your creative brief. I once had a client tell me that they didn’t like the red in a logo design initially because it reminded them of a fire truck. However, as I read further into their feedback, they realized that the red represented their company values well. The client actually did me a favor because they realized their initial opinion was more of a personal taste issue than an objective issue.

Take Small Steps Toward The Goal

Right out of college, I began my creative career as a wedding videographer. Sending my clients their first cut of their wedding video was nerve-racking. I always wanted to make sure they were happy with the final product so I allowed a couple of iterations. However, I once made the mistake of taking a client’s feedback, doing a huge overhaul, all to make the video a completely new experience. They hated it. Why? Well, I think it’s because people need to receive change in small steps. That client actually loved my first deliverable and wanted just a few minor things changed. In this scenario, I freaked out and doubted everything—which led me to take it to the extreme and change the whole thing. My intentions were great by trying to make them happy, but allowing self-doubt to creep in and dictate an extreme change wasn’t great.

I’ve found it to be the same with design. If you receive feedback and need to make a change, take small steps. Test those small steps. Don’t roll out a completely new experience only to overwhelm your customer. Be patient. That day, I realized that a small step in the right direction is better than a big step in the wrong direction.

Handling Negative Feedback

During college I drove up to the Blue Ridge Mountains one year and snow began to fall which made the roads slick. While driving up to the cabin, my car began to hydroplane. I began to think about what my dad taught me: stay calm, understand the skid, don’t slam the brakes, steer into the skid. I kind of see negative feedback like that. As a designer, it’s really easy to blow it out of proportion and react negatively to negative feedback. If you receive negative feedback, stay calm. Even if your client is unprofessional and harsh, it doesn’t mean you have to be. Don’t slam on the brakes or steer too sharp. Ask questions and find the root of the problem. Once you identify the issue, you can figure out how to steer the project in the right direction. If the chemistry is just not working between you and the customer, do your best to finish the project and stay faithful to your work.

At the end of the day, if design is for people, that means the process involves people. This also means that communication and feedback is important—if not vital to you being an effective designer. We all have to learn to work through feedback and serve our clients well. If things aren’t working out, sometimes a client might need a little guidance to help them see something that is hard for them to visualize. Designers, remember that you are the designer. Don’t be afraid to share your professional opinion and expertise. Committing to the design process means that there are steps you need take to make your client happy and meet your collective goals. So if you receive a mountain of feedback that is hard to sort out: stay calm, understand the skid, don’t slam the brakes, steer into the skid, and hopefully you’ll get one step closer to finishing your project well.