Let’s be honest, most clients lack the skills to give helpful feedback on design and media products. It’s just not their day-to-day business. You simply have to browse “Clients From Hell” to stumble upon examples of funny client reviews. In the end, this makes design projects complicated and time-consuming.
To illustrate my point here’s one of my favourite dialogues on “Clients From Hell”:
Client: We want a new video embedded on the website, under the box.
Me: When you say “under the box,” do you mean under box 1 or under box 2? There are two boxes.
Client: We mean we want the video embedded, like the other videos that are embedded on the website already.
Me: Yes, but do you want it under box 1 or box 2?
Client: We would like it under the box.
But no worries. There are great ways to help you improve your clients’ design feedback. In this article, I am introducing you to powerful methods such as personas. Furthermore, I am going to give you an impression of new helpful tools like Filestage. So after reading this article, you will know how to simplify your design review process.
Nothing beats personal feedback
Based on my personal experience, many creatives prefer to meet up in-person to discuss designs. And I clearly see why. It’s the ideal scenario. Your client can show you what he or she means by pointing to the exact position in your design. If things get fuzzy or difficult to understand both sides can just ask and discuss it.
There is only one downside to this. We live in a fast-moving, globalised world. Neither your client nor you have the time to meet up in-person for every step in a design review. In some cases, your client and you don’t even live in the same country.
Don’t get me wrong. I love these connected times, where it’s easy to build relationships with clients and co-workers all over the world. Remote work offers great opportunities for everyone, so I wouldn’t want to miss out on it. But there are obstacles that make remote work complex – especially for designers and creatives.
Why email and phone are not an adequate replacement
A major driving force behind flexible, remote work is technology. Even the most old-fashioned client nowadays knows how to use a phone and how to write an email. But instead of making the whole communication process easier, email and phone bring more complexity into the review process.
This is because both phone and email are not made to manage design reviews. When someone sends you feedback via email, there is just too much room for misinterpretation. Clients often fail to write precise enough feedback. It’s because they need to invest time to describe what they mean: Time they often don’t have.
At first glance, the phone seems to be way better for discussing designs and media files with clients. Its biggest advantage is that you get direct feedback and can ask questions. But have you ever tried to make precise notes, while hanging on the phone with a client? This is pretty challenging for the most of us.
Multiple parties in the design process
As soon as multiple parties are involved, emails get messy. Email and phone are just not made to handle projects. We all know situations when clients comment on old versions or clients contradicts each other. In the middle of a design review, you feel like: Wait, who said what to whom on what channel?
No link between comments and visuals
Most clients have trouble describing what they see, because they don’t have a background in media. Some clients just lack the right skills to give adequate feedback on media files like videos, design, pictures and websites. What makes it hard for them is that the design is separated from the comments. The entire feedback is simply out of context. This leaves too much room for interpretation and confusion.
No clear workflow
Furthermore, creative projects involving clients often lack a clear workflow. Email is the default communication tool, including all the downsides described above. There are no clear rules when and where to give feedback. Little change requests often result in an endless email ping-pong. In the end, everyone is kept busy without being productive. In my opinion, this is one of the major time-killers within projects.
Fortunately, there are some great methods and tools out there to improve your clients’ reviews. This will help you work more efficiently and allow you to get more out of your day.
A common mistake people make is to give you feedback based on their personal taste. We all know examples where the CEO loved the new website, but conversion rates were low because customers didn’t get along with it. Let’s face it, marketing materials should suit the taste of the target group, not the boss.
A great way to make your clients consider the taste of the target group is to work with personas. Personas are generalised archetypes that stand for the target group. Simply put, they create a vivid picture of the person you want to reach with your design. Personas are an effective way to help your client stay focused on their target group. So every time you notice that your client argues from a personal perspective, use personas to remind them of their target group.
If you need an effective persona template you can download one here.
Ask ‘why’ questions
As stated above, many clients have never learned to give qualified feedback on visuals. Even though they are decision makers. It’s just part of their job as executives to judge and give advice. So clients tend to make suggestions like “make the logo bigger”, without seeing its drawbacks.
Your job as a designer is to guide them towards helpful feedback and away from micromanaging. An easy-to-follow trick is to act like a neutral researcher, who asks open “why-questions”. So when your client asks you to make the logo bigger or change the colour, just ask why. Your goal is here to understand your client, and his or her motives.
The better you are at your job as a researcher the more you are able to identify what drives your client. By asking why questions on a regular basis, you will steer your client away from proposing quick solutions. Instead, they start to focus on real problems.
When you use the “why-technique” be careful not to come across as too cocky. Try to sound friendly and curious. Remember that you are a scientist, not a disciplinarian controlling his children. This way you can work your way towards the problem and can come up with great solutions.
Teach clients about the production process
With a client, it’s like in every good relationship. It’s all about communication and transparency. A client wants to understand why you act in certain ways. A client who has a basic understanding of the design process is able to make informed decisions. This will make your life way easier and the design process more efficient.
To educate your client, give him or her an intro to your design process, your workflow and your deadlines. Tell them about the obstacles and the points of no return. When you talk about deadlines, make sure that everyone with decision power is on board with them. This way, they are able to anticipate what impact a certain change request will have on the entire project.
I must admit that it might seem like additional work at first. But I can assure you that an informed client is way easier to handle in the long run. Your client will definitely act with more foresight and tends to make fewer suggestions.
Use tools made for design review
Fortunately, we live in times of great technology. Aside from the now outdated tools, email and phone, there is plenty of great software out there. Software that can make your life as a creative professional a lot more fun.
Another great way to simplify your design review process is Filestage. Filestage is a web application that allows you to share, review and approve your creative projects with your clients and co-workers. It’s designed especially for video, design, audio files and PDF documents.
One of its major advantages is that feedback is in context. To add a comment, clients and co-workers just click inside your video or design. A marker tags the exact position of your feedback. So all your media files and comments are bundled in one central workspace. Every comment is timestamped and refers to a specific position in your image, video or document. This way, feedback is precise and easy to understand.
Another advantage is that users can discuss and comment on files simultaneously. The automatic versioning systems make sure that everybody is up to date. Furthermore, there is a lean project dashboard. It helps you to remain organized and keep track of the status of all your reviews and approvals.
Managing design and media reviews with clients can be stressful and ineffective. Due to the lack of time on most projects, it’s not possible to meet up in-person. In those cases, it’s crucial to use the right techniques and tools to manage client reviews.
A great technique to improve your clients’ feedback are personas. They help you stay focused on the target group. Another great way is to ask why questions and act like a scientist. Furthermore, it’s always helpful to teach your clients about the creative process. Last but not least, there are great tools like Filestage that can help you make your client review process more efficient.
How do you manage design reviews with a client? What tools and techniques do you use?
I would love to hear about your methods to improve feedback quality.