One of the most challenging aspects of our work is to gather feedback from clients.
The people we build websites for know far less than we do about design, the web, and what it takes to build a great website. That’s why they hired us after all.
The first step to gathering feedback is to recognize that our clients are passionate about the thing their website or app represents. It might be their business or a project they care dearly about. Most will have a vision of what they want to be achieved and it’s our job to tease out this vision and learn how to realize it.
The most important skill to have to successfully gather feedback is empathy.
Do not let a feedback session run itself or the client run it. You're in charge.
We set the rules of the feedback session. Do not let a feedback session run itself or the client run it. You’re in charge. That’s why you’re paid. If you don’t lead, either you won’t receive the feedback you need or the customer will feel like they have too much control and since they don’t really know how to achieve things, they could start to feel anxious.
Instead, open the feedback session so you and the client know what you’re talking about by saying something like, “The purpose of today’s feedback session is to review the color choices in the context of the design so far. Our goals for the designer were …”
Then present the solutions. Don’t comment on the design or explain why you did what you did. Just show the what. “Here is the front page in green. Here it is in the second green.” We want to ensure we get their raw, real responses. The design should work without explanation.
Pause between each alternative. You need to let the client absorb the work. You have been staring at it for hours, but they haven’t. They will need a chance to soak it all in. 15-30s is normally enough time for each design. If they need more time, they’ll ask for more. Each client has their own speed, so you’ll get a sense of it as you work more with them.
Next, they will either start talking about the designs or need a few prompts to get started. If they need prompts, turn the goals of the design into questions. For example, you might say, “How does the green in this design represent your brand?”
Once they start talking, listen carefully and take notes. Use active listening to reinforce that you’ve heard what they have said, “I hear you saying that this green is too dark….”
As they give you feedback, they will invariably give you feedback in the form of changes. “Make this bigger. Make this smaller. Make this yellow.” This is probably the place where most design reviews fall apart. It’s really easy to only hear the suggested changes.
Your job is to tease out the issues in the design they are highlighting. For example, a client might say, “This text should be bigger, or the logo needs more green!” Use your designerly eye to identify the cause for the suggested change. Is the hierarchy broken? Does the page lack rhythm? Are the graphics off brand?
Use your active listening skills to echo their suggestion back to them in the form of the problem. You might say, “So, what I hear you saying is the header is too prominent and is competing to be the most important thing on the page.” When you nail it the client will say, “Ya, that’s right! And the content is important to me because our offering is the most important thing to communicate for this page.”
Our goal at the end of each design review is to leave the client feeling heard
As you tease out their needs, this is your opportunity to talk about why you made the decisions you did. As you process the design together, provide the reasons why you made the decisions you did by exposing the tradeoffs. Every design is filled with tradeoffs. This conversation will serve to educate the client on what’s important and how we think about design. Over time, it will become natural and they will adopt our language.
We want to use plain language when we describe designs. Sometimes you need a term to refer to something specific. No problem. Just make sure you define the term as you use it.
Keep this cycle of questions and answers going until you are confident you understand their needs better than when you started and you have what you need to create the next iteration. If you’re looking for final approval, explicitly say, “So you are approving our use of this design for x?” Once you get a “yes,” or “That’s right!” move on.
Our goal at the end of each design review is to leave the client feeling heard, which is important because we won’t nail the design from the start and it provides the feeling of success while material success is still to be gained. We also want to know what we need to act on for the next design iteration. Schedule the next review and thank them for their feedback.
That’s it! If you do these things, you will be well on your way to having a great feedback session.
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