How to give good feedback as a client


One thing I have noticed repeatedly is both clients and creatives do not give good feedback. Along those same lines, both are not good at asking for and getting back the right feedback as well.

When I refer to creatives I mean anyone who is in the field of making something: designers, developers - so on. For the sake of simplicity, my example will feature a designer, but this can apply to any creative or technical field.

What is client feedback?

Feedback is the notes you have for a creative person after they have submitted an initial or follow up round of creative work for your review. You review a project, and you will inevitably have changes you want to see done.

Write all your changes for that round in a single doc and send that over. Feedback can be directed specifically at the project, or could be just something you wish you would see improvement on when it comes to the contractors process.

Why good client feedback is important

Think about the last time you worked with a designer on any project. You were required to give some thoughts on the work being presented. I bet it went something like this:

Designer: "Hey I made this user interface design for the new web application we are working on, thoughts?"

You: "X,Y,Z could be better - please update this."

Designer: "Okay."

Rinse and Repeat.

At the end of the project you feel frustrated because you hired this person to solve a problem - and you feel like you have to direct them how to do it. On the other side, your designer is probably frustrated and feels undervalued. Odds are - this isn't the first time this has happened to either of you.

What is the problem here? How do you keep this from repeating itself on every project?

It comes down to - not knowing how to giving good feedback.

Most designers do not know how to ask for good client feedback. Most clients do not know how to give good feedback.

What to do?

What is the solution then? What makes feedback good and how is it different than what you or your designer is used to? What client feedback format should you use to make this process more effective?

Good feedback is descriptive.

Bad feedback is prescriptive.

What is the difference?

Prescriptive Feedback

Let’s start with prescriptive feedback - bad feedback. This is the general approach most clients and designers take because it is what they are used to.

Some examples of what prescriptive feedback looks like:
"Change the color to a darker blue."

"Make this font bigger."

"Add more detail to the logo."

"Make this font smaller."

"Actually, make it bigger again."

Sound familiar?

You are prescribing what you want done, and you have your justifications for it. Most likely your intentions are good, but the way you are phrasing your actions is not. The problem lies in how you are delivering the feedback.

Why is this the wrong approach?

First, it wastes time - your time and the designers time.

Think about it - how do any of the above instructions benefit the end outcome of the project? Your probably know why you want those things done - but your designer does not. As a result your designer will complete your requests, often times moving the project away from the end goal you started out with because they do not know why you want those things done. They will most likely do them because in their mind, you are the client - and they do not want to make you upset.

Second, it undervalues the designer. It makes them feel like their skills are not valued, like they are a tool and all of their past experience working on design projects is not important. This is most likely not your intention - but I know from experience, before I asked for the right feedback, this is often how I felt.

There is a better way

I mentioned descriptive feedback earlier. This is one of the most important things I learned as a creative business owner.

What descriptive feedback looks like from your(the clients) perspective:

"The current color scheme does not match our brand."

"There is not enough attention brought to the main action we are trying to get users to make."

"The font on this page is very hard to see and blends into the background."

"We would like to bring more focus to the past projects section of the page."

Descriptive feedback describes the situation and most importantly what is wrong with it and why. As a client, you have voiced your concerns and why you think that way. This leaves no room for error in communication. Your designer now knows exactly what to do, what you are thinking and why you want the changes done.

I can not put enough emphasis this point. The difference in this approach will make your experience, and the experience of your designer an enjoyable one. It is a night and day difference. Your designer can review your thoughts and see if they align with the project goals, and it gives them a chance to exercise their expertise.

How to move forward?

First off - educate yourself. Learn the difference between prescriptive and descriptive feedback.(Congrats - you already know this now if you read through this article). Keep an ear out for how you phrase things when you give feedback and try to change your approach.

Bonus: Educate the designer you are working with or a fellow designer. This helps to align your designer on the right approach to feedback, and will show that you genuinely care about the project you are working on together and your relationship with them. You are paying your designer money to do work. You want a good end result and a good journey. This is a small but great way to help that along. Send them to this article, have them read through it. Have a chat together on how you can approach feedback moving forward.

To summarize

1. We learned the difference between prescriptive and descriptive feedback. We also went over the benefits of descriptive feedback. As a quick recap - prescriptive feedback prescribes actions often times which leave you and your designer frustrated. Descriptive feedback describes what you want done and why you are thinking that way - which leaves no doubt about what you want done and opens up the door for your designer to defend their choices or ask more questions. Asking for client feedback in this format is guaranteed to get you better results.

2. Apply what you learned by educating yourself, your team and your designer. Want an easy way to do this? Send them to this page!



Note: The concept of prescriptive and descriptive feedback was first introduced to me by Paul Jarvis in his Creative Class.