Navigating the Feedback Loop

January 16, 2020 | by Matt Roman

As designers, we’re accustomed to providing two to three, sometimes even four concepts to a client. Almost always, there’s a favorite, a safe option and a third, cobbled-together version you’re praying they don’t pick. More often than not, the client picks one of the aforementioned options and you move forward. Though many times throughout my career, I’ve experienced the client liking something from concept A, a little from B and just a hint from concept C. We call this Frankensteining, and it usually results in one big headache.

On one hand, it’s great that they’re happy and responding to your designs. On the other, these changes may be dismantling the many elements that made each respective concept successful in the first place. What the client subjectively likes is the very root of this problem.

So, as design experts, how do we take muddled, often conflicting feedback and still deliver the best result to our clients?


But WHY?

We can start with the question, “why?”. It’s very natural for clients to provide feedback within the parameters of like and dislike. They’re operating subjectively—after all, it’s their brand, site or campaign. It’s easy to respond emotionally based on feelings. What clients often forget is that design is for their audience. And as designers, we’re keeping the brand’s best interest in mind during the design process. In these scenarios, it’s pivotal to move away from like vs. dislike and get into the why and how. Why or how is what they like or dislike serving the greater brand? The answer has everything to do with my next point.


Stick to Strategy

The biggest detriment to Frankensteining, in my opinion, is creating a design that no longer fits within the project’s original strategy. Suddenly the client becomes the designer. They begin verbally exploring “what-ifs”, many of which you may have already explored in the original design exploration and left behind for good reason. As designers, we are hired to solve problems—and problems are best solved when we adhere to an established strategy.

It’s not only important to develop that strategy, but to remind clients of it and the project goals it serves. This supports design decisions and gives the design team credibility to push back on complicated feedback.


The “One Concept Approach”

As a possible solution to this extremely common problem, I’ve seen the “One Concept Approach” thrown around. This is exactly what it sounds like: You only deliver a single concept to the client to ensure the best possible solution. Of course, this isn’t the industry standard. It’s extremely against the grain and could definitely be off-putting to some clients.

Bre, from Rowan Made, has a pretty comprehensive approach to presenting a single concept.

These key steps to making this approach successful for her studio include:

  1. Expectations: Get client buy-in from the beginning of a project.
  2. Strategy: Developing a rigid brand strategy provides insight and guides design decisions.
  3. Presentation: Create a killer, comprehensive presentation beyond just the design and rationale. Provide contextual examples such as mockups, photography pairings or social interfaces.
  4. Guide: Ask pointed questions that encourage the client to think in regards to brand ethos, audience and strategy.

Remind the client that the design process is inherently iterative and rounds of refinement come next. What’s working, what’s not? This encourages positive collaboration.

By switching to this bold method, Bre says her studio has since experienced less rounds of refinement, clients with very minimal edits and occasionally none at all.


Where Do We Go From Here?

So, what if the One Concept Approach is a little too radical for your studio? I’ve experienced the feedback problem more times than I can count. I have searched far and wide for solutions. Unfortunately, there’s just not one catch-all tactic that can nullify the Frankensteining problem.

But the solution can begin with ongoing communication. This includes setting expectations at the beginning of the project to give clients an idea of how feedback is to be received and reviewed throughout the duration of a project.

This takes me right back to Rowan Made’s fourth step in the One Concept Approach, of guiding feedback. Asking pointed questions that speak back to the brand strategy ensures more objective feedback. Once the questions are shared with key stakeholders, provide them with a few days to thoughtfully respond to the questions. Upon receiving feedback, decide if the feedback is clear enough to proceed or if a feedback call is necessary. If so, create an outline to guide the call, focusing on the “why”. According to Bre, the key to a successful feedback call is to continually position yourself as the expert (after all, you are) and guide with honest communication.


Reap the Benefits

In the end, not every project always works out the way we hope it will. But the feedback process doesn’t have to be painful and there are plenty of proactive things we can do along the way that benefit both the design team and the client.

By enacting just a few of the strategies above, we can start to:

  • Save time and energy: Cut down on out-of-scope revisions.
  • Produce the best result possible: When more time is spent homing in on a singular route, there should be no question if it’s satisfying the project strategy.
  • Ease the decision-making process for clients.
  • Get more focused, constructive feedback.

And striving for that is something all designers and clients can agree on.

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