The importance of controling feedback and critique

Any designer who has produced work for anyone other than themselves knows how tricky the design feedback process can be. As designers we have very specific reasons for designing a site the way we do. We have expertise in rhythm, proportion, sizing, whitespace, grids and other graphic design concepts. Many times hours are spent trying different combinations, layout positions, usage of colors, etc… by the end of the work we know what didn’t work and what did.

When we present our work to a client / boss we have two unique and profound depths of insight that they simply don’t have. Communicating and being authoritative on the reasons you chose the design decisions that you did is a key element in ensuring that the client does not get in the way of themselves and end up with a weak design.

Every time I go through the process I think of new and better ways to approach it. To the point where I am currently developing a “script” of how to move from point to point.

My Feedback “Script”

1. Creative Brief

I start way before I even design. Before I even open up photoshop I write a creative/idea brief and deliver it to the client and ask them to sign off on it, to make sure that my thoughts and ideas on how the design should look and feel is in line with what they expect. This at least introduces them to my take on the design problem.

2. The introduction

I find the introduction is one of the most important aspects of the process. This is where it is important to explain how you are going to conduct the feedback and review process, what should be considered and why, and how to give feedback in a way that will benefit the design process rather than hurt it. The following list a general process of what I talk about:

  1. We are going to review the designs, I will explain why I designed things the way I did. At this point please hold any feedback until you have conferred with everyone over a few days, and we will reconnect to talk about your thoughts. It is important to discuss feedback and revisions rather than firing off gut reactions.
  2. Remember that design is subjective, everyone will like things differently. What is most important is that your clients / users like best. Think about things from a user perspective, not your own.
  3. I rerun through my creative brief that was approved. We decided that we were going to design in this fashion because… remember that you agreed.
  4. This is not just visual style, but more importantly what it communicates.
  5. When you do give feedback tell me what does not work and why. Direction is counter productive, as one change alters the balance of the whole design. Let me what needs to be fixed and I can sort out the design problem.

3. The explination

I will walk through why I chose to design the way that I did for each design. I am learning that it is better to jot down notes during the design process and before the actual review, as I have a tendency to rush through it and miss many important details. Including all of the details is extremely important to help flesh the idea out in your clients mind as well as establishing yourself as an expert.

If the client gets the impression that you are just throwing paint onto a digital canvas they will have no reason to trust your design choices over their own, and why should they if it doesn’t sound like you had any reasoning behind the layouts.

4. Ask for questions

At this point I normally ask if there are any questions about the designs. I am finding it is best at this point to reiterate that we will reconnect for direct feedback in a few days, as this is often a point where it becomes hard to resist expressing ones opinion (and it is understandable).

I don’t normally get many questions, which could mean there is some optimization that could be done in this step of the process.

5. Getting feedback

When reconnecting for feedback I like to go through each item one by one, and have the client not only explain “what” by “why.” Not only does this give me better insight, but also forces the client to really think about the importance and context of the revision. That is not to say that the revisions are invalid. Rather that if there is a request that is not the best of choices it does set you up to say “You may not like the extra contact link, but a user who is 5 minutes late to a meeting and needs your phone number to call on the way to your office will sure appreciate it.”

6. Next Steps

Confirming what feedback and revisions you will act on and which ones were decided to be unnecessary (by the client and you collaboratively.) Sometimes if I think that one avenue is going down a wrong path and I can’t convince the client to agree otherwise I will ask permission to do two concepts to demonstrate my point of view.

How do you handle feedback?

I have yet to see a process that feels and works perfect anytime. Any thoughts/ideas/stories on how you go about handling the feedback and review process would be wonderful.