Avoid the Infinite Feedback Loop

on June 13, 2013

Make it pop“Make it pop.” “Add wow factor.” “I’ll know it when I see it.”

That’s the type of feedback that makes designers cringe. It’s vague, overly simple, and provides very little direction for what to do next.

Now, if you think I’m only accusing clients of delivering poor feedback you’d be wrong. Sometimes the worst offenders can be creative professionals. I once worked under a Creative Director who was notorious for vague direction. Internal design reviews often went something like this:

After reviewing the designer’s work:

CD: These comps really aren’t that great.
Designer: Do you have any suggestions?
CD: I dunno. Make them better?

Where does one go from there?

This example is in the extreme, but typically the person giving the feedback is poorly equipped to express their vision because they simply don’t know the same terms. Many clients aren’t as familiar with words like composition, contrast, texture, weight, hierarchy—at least not in the ways that creatives are. So it’s up to the designer to ask clarifying questions in order to get the information they need.

Here are some tips for obtaining good feedback

Ask follow up questions

Client: “Overall the design is ok but I’m a bit underwhelmed.”
Designer: “What specifically do you not like about this design? Is it the color? Arrangement? Fonts?”
“This layout makes use of a large feature image. Is this particular photograph missing the mark?”

When asking follow up questions, do your best to avoid industry-specific terms that can further confuse the discussion.

Use an idea they don’t like to identify what they do like
We’ll never be able to avoid the I’ll-know-it when-I-see-it type of direction. As annoying as that approach is to designers, the truth is it’s much easier to provide feedback after the first round of designs. That can seem like lost time to a designer, but that round one feedback can yield valuable information. Once you and the client identify what’s wrong, you can move toward the goal with confidence that you’re headed in a more informed direction in the next round of designs.

Offer alternative solutions
Finally, when client feedback is presented as art direction, there’s often an underlying concern that hasn’t been identified. “Make this button bigger” might really mean the call to action doesn’t appear important enough. There are numerous ways to address the problem besides making the button bigger. When you receive feedback this specific, don’t just push back. Investigate further to identify the client’s real concern and then propose an elegant solution that still fits the design. If there’s trust in the relationship, the client is probably less concerned with the specific method, and open to other solutions that solve the same problem.