How to get meaningful design feedback from your clients.

How to get meaningful design feedback from your clients.

Getting meaningful design feedback from clients can feel like pulling teeth. There are so many things a client can object to! But typically, underneath all the personal opinions is something deeper. Something that we’re going to help you dig into with the help of this article.

Why is meaningful design feedback so important?

Exposing ourselves to feedback can be scary, particularly if it’s not something you’re used to. Unfortunately, avoiding this part of the process can have dire consequences for the project and ultimately for your client! But it does get easier, the more you do it… I promise.

As designers and creative agencies, we must accept that we will never know our client’s business as well as they do. We can, and should do our best to immerse ourselves in their customers’ shoes, but ultimately we will look to them for guidance.

Failure to ask for feedback through vital stages of the project can result in:

  • Scope creep. Waiting to present the finished product can lead to more questions than answers. This in turn can lead to redesigning major areas of the project and the request of additional features that weren’t part of the original agreement. That’s not good for anyone, least of all you.
  • Failing to meet the client’s expectations. By waiting until the end of the project to show your client, you are putting an awful lot of pressure on them to understand everything you have done and why. Your client will always have preconceived ideas of how their project should turn out. By sharing early and often you ensure that both sides are in agreement and happy with the direction.
  • Straying from the client’s brand. Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to veer from a brand’s voice or style. It can be tempting to add something of yourself (which sometimes is needed). You might get carried away and think, “This looks awesome”, and maybe it does, but is it what the client is expecting? Share early and often.
  • Missing the mark completely. It’s much easier to build a solid product when there is regular feedback coming in from the people that matter. Discovering what works, what doesn’t and what can be experimented with is one of the things that makes the design process so much fun. I used to hate sharing work with clients, but the more I did it, and the earlier I involved the client, the more fun it became. Can you see a theme developing here?
  • The client won’t feel like they’ve contributed. Unfortunately, this point is often overlooked. You need to be mindful of the fact that you are working on your client’s baby, their pride and their joy. They’ve hired you to do something they can’t, but they still need to feel it’s theirs. Including your client in the feedback process is important for more than mere feedback. It gives your client a sense of ownership.

Know whom you’re talking to.

Depending on the level of understanding your client has, you may have to present your designs in a particular format. Not everyone is happy to dig around a Figma file. Many sales and marketing teams prefer not to be inside design tools at all, especially if feedback sessions are run asynchronously. Give them the option to view and share feedback in a way they are comfortable with.

Knowing whom you’re talking to is important for several reasons.

  • It will dictate how you present your designs.
  • It could mean the difference between a synchronous or asynchronous session.
  • Will you be presenting to an individual or a team, or several teams?
  • The feedback you request may need to be framed differently depending on whom you’re talking to. The sales team will probably have different concerns than the marketing team. Each will fight for their corner.
  • Their level of technical and design know-how can vary hugely. Plan accordingly.

Specify the kind of feedback you need.

One of the most common mistakes we can make is asking,

“What do you think? Do you like it?”

This seemingly harmless question can open you and your team up to a world of hurt. All of a sudden things become subjective and business goals take a back seat.

The what-do-you-think-question is a surefire way to hear about everything from why Gerry in sales doesn’t like blue buttons, to why Sally in marketing thinks it’s probably time the company went with a new font. This kind of client feedback doesn’t help anyone.

One way to combat this is to be explicit in the feedback you request.

Instead of revealing your designs and shouting “Surprise”!

  • Step back and think about what kind of feedback you are looking for.
  • What will move the project forward?
  • What’s worrying you about the project?

Take a look at some of the examples below and see if they spark any ideas…of course, this will vary according to the project.

  • After listening to several customer interviews, we found there was an issue with X. Now when a user clicks here to perform action Y, they’re taken to Z. Does this make sense to you? Be intentional with your questions, but leave them open-ended. This will give your client the chance to express what they expected to see. Maybe they pictured something else, and that’s OK. If so, dig deeper. Why did they expect that other thing? What would the purpose of that action have been? From there you can discuss your reasoning and theirs. You might be surprised at where you end up.
  • If there is a particular area that you feel needs to be simplified, ask there and then: “Was there anything that stood out or confused you about this feature”? So often this is left until the end of the session and your client cannot remember half of what they’ve seen. Ask specific questions at specific times.
  • Reflect on the problem you're solving in the questions you ask. Whether this is a synchronous or asynchronous feedback session, speak to the problems you're solving. This helps the client focus on the project goals and not on, “Do I like this colour”? An example could look something like this; “In our initial research we found that customers weren’t completing action X because of their interaction with Y. This new solution addresses that issue by doing Z. Can you foresee any problems?" Again, it’s specific but left open-ended. This means it can lead to further discussion about relevant issues.
  • Is there anything you feel is missing from this draft? This is a question for the end of the session. It gives your client a chance to evaluate what they’ve seen so far and to think about the bigger picture. This is a great way to spark new ideas. Of course, new ideas can be dangerous, but it’s better to get this done early. Also, you may genuinely have forgotten to take something into consideration. It happens!

BTW. There’s a fantastic book called Deploy Empathy by Michele Hansen. It’s 100% focused on how to effectively run customer development interviews. Many of the principles cross over to getting great feedback from clients. I recommend giving it a read!

Consolidating feedback.

However you choose to run these sessions, I suggest keeping all your feedback in one place. This can be a challenge when clients use email, Slack, Whatsapp groups and project management tools to communicate, but it can be done!

A simple option is to use something like Feature Flux. Feature Flux lets you gather relevant feedback on your design projects and even gives you version control. This lets you see why changes were made and when. It also removes the eternal question; “Are we working from the latest version of the design”?

Other options are more labour-intensive but can be achieved using automation services such as Zapier. It’s not ideal, but it can be done.

Whichever way you choose to collect feedback, make sure it’s collated and available from one easily accessible point.

I don’t like it… Ask why.

Let me start by saying this, it is your client’s right to have objections. They want what’s best for their project. However, it’s important to distinguish between their complaint and what lies at the root of it. Let me explain… If we accept an objection at face value, we risk making unnecessary changes and taking the project in the wrong direction. We can end up in a worse place than before and ironically the client will be more upset than if we’d ignored him. The reason? Their objection isn't the real problem, it’s what lies behind the objection.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Ask why five times and you’ll get to the truth of it”. The same can be applied here.

Let’s take an example: Your client says they don’t want users to be taken straight to the settings page after onboarding ends. They want them to go to the dashboard instead. If you take their objection at face value you may have to redesign the onboarding flow as essential data is needed for account settings. This data isn’t asked for on signup so there is as little friction as possible. Here we insert our first “why”?

You: Why do you want them to go to the dashboard and not account settings?
Client: I want to wow them with all the great-looking data we have there.
You: Why do you feel that is important right after the onboarding?
Client: Because we need to get them to that WOW moment as quickly as possible, right?
You: True, but to display that data correctly and to get to that WOW, we need vital information from the user. This info comes from account settings. We don’t ask for this information upfront so they can get into the app as quickly as possible.
Client: That’s true. Is there another way we can get them there and have the information available?

The problem hasn’t been solved, but the client is now asking you questions. How can we do X to get Y. This is a much better place to be and can open up all kinds of useful discussions.

Give your clients enough time to think about their answers.

Asynchronous and synchronous both have their place when it comes to getting design feedback. One benefit of running asynchronous feedback sessions is that you give your client time to gather their thoughts. They’re not thinking on their feet and reacting to what’s in front of them. One of the disadvantages is that your client can run off on a thousand tangents, providing unhelpful feedback.

Of course, there is a healthy middle ground. You can share the project with them as a presentation ahead of the meeting and then jump on a call to go through everything. One consideration with this method is to make sure they know what kind of feedback you’re looking for.

Again, using a tool like Feature Flux you can share the project as a presentation and leave the questions you want to be answered on each screen. Your client can jump in and leave relevant feedback or do it with you on a call. This way they don’t jump straight to, “Do I like it?”

Just make sure you don’t ambush them with a bunch of questions about a design they’ve yet to see. You might not like the answers.

Getting meaningful design feedback from your clients doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. By placing a few simple systems in place, preparing the questions you need answers to and asking why (a lot), you’ll be in feedback heaven in no time!

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