How to Manage Design Feedback in Two Easy Steps

Insights Posted on — 01.17.2013

How to Manage Design Feedback in Two Easy Steps


As a designer, nothing is more frustrating than having your master creation ruined by the one who stands to benefit the most from it's success: the client.

How to Manage Design Feedback Designer Focusing on Screen

In my over twenty years of watching this challenge present itself again and again, I have come to a most humbling conclusion. The problem comes from within. It's your own personal opinion that's making everything suck.

A few years back, I read the strangest little book by Matthew Ferry and from it I found myself picking-up all kinds of life lessons, one of which was so profound, I live by it every day. "It's our own opinion that makes us suffer." For me it only took a few seconds to see the ironic truth in this statement. I began connecting the dots of how my opinions were affecting my attitudes; making my thoughts become way too negative. Think about it. That friend who takes issue with everything - we all know someone who likes to have "nothing-fights." While being opinionated comes with the culture of being a design-person, "nothing-fights" are nothing I wanted anything to do with.

Realizing that was a huge thing for me because like most designers, I thought my opinion was the point at which all conversations about anything branding and web design should end. But this opinion that had served my career so well, had also become a source of unnecessary grief. Whenever my ever-knowing opinion was challenged, my critical thinking center would shut down, holding my best thinking for the project hostage. My attitude would suffer and so would be the case for the quality of my work.


So, how do you make a win even when the client insists on the unthinkable?

Step 1: Own the problem. Make it just another part of the challenge. By taking responsibility you take control. These are the lemons, don't let your opinion, your attitude, your ego, get in the way of you making your best lemonade. 

It makes sense that the reason clients are calling is your well-established reputation for having game-changing good ideas, so it's easy to develop an attitude that your opinion should take rank. While the attitude that "the client is always wrong" is sometimes right, to default to this mindset is fundamentally wrong. Whether it is design, branding, or brainstorming the big idea, every project has its challenges. These are the challenges that we all came to this business to engage. They are what make us thrive. But right around Round 2, clients tend to come back with some new stuff. Stuff that we as designers tend to despise. For some reason, we don't respond to this mid-project, new stuff like we do the original challenges of the project. The target just moved and our opinion has sent us down the road talkin' to ourselves. In the interest of producing continued awesomeness at BASIC, this is where I remind the team to detach emotionally and get back to solution finding. We have found that it's easier than it sounds. Shutting down your ego and getting your opinion in-check is a great attitude tricker. None of us like the idea of changing our precious opinions but if you want to make your work fun again and produce the best stuff possible in spite of having to add a bunch of ugly-ass partner logos to your work-of-art, you'll heed these words. Now, because of your amazing attitude and killer instincts to make clean happen in spite of the clutter, the client is stoked and regards your team as his or her go-to problem solvers, which is all we really wanted in the first place.

Step 2: Make a case. If you feel it's absolutely imperative to dispute the client's wishes, which is for us - often, focus on your case. Make sure the client has a crystal-clear understanding of your reasoning. As Seth Godin says, it's no longer a "because I said so" world - it's a "because it works" world, and your client will appreciate your guidance when they see that it's not just your personal subjectivity that motivates you. And remember that client relations are a process of balance. It's a collaboration of ideas (theirs and yours), and they are the ones who have to "be the brand" you are helping them create. If you find that relations are still a little off-kilter after some honest reflection, refer back to step one.