How to keep clients from nitpicking your design concepts by asking for and receiving productive feedback so you can avoid excessive revision cycles.
If you’ve been designing for any length of time, I’m guessing you have experienced the downward revision spiral. In other words, revision cycles that make your creativity monkey want to run and hide.
Nothing kills a designer’s mojo faster than a client nitpicking a design concept or getting too specific in their design feedback.
When we start capitulating to every request just to get to the next phase of the project, the passion for the project is definitely starting to wane.
In 25+ years of working as a designer, I have had my fair share of client drama.
Client drama doesn’t have to be a given. Sometimes, it’s the clients we let in. But most of the time it’s us…
I used to be a total worker bee. Sweating my way through projects… hoping to get to the end in one piece. Clients were not dreamy, and projects were not portfolio-worthy…
And they certainly didn’t pay the bills.
I was done with mojo-killing client drama.
That’s great and so easy to say, Christine… but how did you start? And what does that have to do with the dreaded downward spiral of feedback?
Start every client partnership in the lead.
In a recent post, I talked about how to demonstrate confidence you might not feel. Your client wants to be led by you, and taking leadership starts sooner than you might think. Practically speaking, what does starting the project in a position of leadership really look like?
- Holding firm to your pricing even when your client complains of a low budget or asks for a discount.
- Sticking to your project schedule even if it means you can’t squeeze in that client who is in a hurry.
- Requiring all clients to go through the same onboarding process.
- Setting up expectations of how you work and communicate on your website and reiterating it throughout the onboarding process.
Creating well-thought out design process will allow you to relax into the leadership role and frees you up to design. Clients will be less inclined to micromanage the design (aka revision process) if they know *you* can see the way forward to a great outcome.
Never start a feedback conversation with “What do you think?”
First, understand that no one wants to end up in revision cycle hell. Almost every scope revision fail I’ve experienced as a designer can be chalked up to a lack of active leadership on my part.
There’s something very personal tied up in presenting an idea to a client. We tend to do it passively in an attempt to be disconnected in case of rejection. I get this.
But disconnecting creates the exact situation we had hoped to avoid. Some would say that design concepts need to be presented in person, others prefer to do it via email or in their project management tool using video to explain their choices. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. It depends on the way you offer your services and the how you like to work.
No matter your presentation style, you can ask for feedback from your client in such a way that it gets you both to the best design solution faster. Instead of “tell me what you think” or “get back to me with your changes”, ask your client to focus on what they feel when they look at your presented concept. Ask them to tell you what they like and don’t like. This works for any design project, particularly in the styling and final concept phases.
TIP: Be very intentional in guiding the feedback conversation. What do you feel when you look at this? Fill in the blank, this feels too ____________. I want it to feel more ____________. What do you like? dislike? Is anything missing?
Grab my complete feedback scripts for every phase of the design process here.
Why is this so important?
By asking your client to focus on how something feels, you’ll avoid the kind of feedback that forces you into a design corner. When a client starts to give instruction about specific elements – make this blue, use this font – they are trying to correct what they feel is missing (and rightly so). But in most cases, they lack the experience to understand the kind of changes that will move the design in the right direction.
While I believe the motive behind most client feedback is purely an attempt to be helpful, you and I know it’s not. Rather, it makes for a suffocating, limiting design experience.
Have you been there – where you feel compelled to try suggestions that you know won’t get you where you want to go? Here starts revision cycle hell… when the project goes back out for review, it’s still not right… and so begins the cycle of try this… try that… you are now a follower in the process while your client throws spaghetti on the wall.
I am not encouraging you to take on an uncollaborative attitude or dismiss your client’s feedback. Collaboration and research should be happening throughout the entire project. I am encouraging you to lead your client knowing that asking this way will provide you with the most productive feedback.
Get your design project back on track.
So what do you do if you are currently in this revision spiral? How do you get your project back on track?
Have a frank discussion with your client. Keep it simple, straightforward and pleasant. This is about a common goal. Remind them why they hired you and that you’ve got their back – encourage them to trust in the process and allow you the space to do what you do well. Most importantly – ask them to reframe their feedback by using the guidelines above.
If you are struggling with what to say and exactly how to say it, I’ve created some scripts that will help your projects stay on track OR get them back on track if they’ve derailed. I would love for you to try them out… and I’d love to hear about how they worked for you.
Want to talk more keeping revision cycles to a minimum? Head on over to the Drama-Free Design Collective on Facebook and tag me… I’d be happy to help you figure out why things are going sideways in your design projects.
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