Wahoo! Let’s talk about feedback! This can be a hairy area for both the designer and the client. As a designer, we're expecting the worst—but secretly hoping for a quick "Approved!"

As a client, sometimes you don't even know where to begin. Colors? Fonts? The ill-fitting power suit in the boardroom stock photo?

My solution to this difficult situation? Get specific.

Feedback and iteration are part of the creative process, and ultimately play a huge part in the success of a project. I’ve found that getting specific with my clients about exactly what element of the design I’m looking for feedback on can help them understand that they’re not looking at a finished product yet. Calling out focus areas like layout, color play, or illustration style can lead to productive feedback sessions—instead of getting bogged down on parts of the design that aren't finished yet.

A design is like a house...

I operate almost exclusively in metaphors, so bear with me: Imagine that you’re ready to buy a house. You want to move in pretty quickly, but your tastes are unique (naturally), so you decide to have a home custom built.

You pick a great neighborhood, and set a meeting with a builder to get things moving. You show up to the meeting wearing your favorite Harry Potter t-shirt, and start chatting about your must-haves, your budget, and a few photos of wall-to-wall bookcases that you can’t live without. Now, because you want to move in quickly, you tell the builder to go ahead and build what he thinks will work well. Again it's a metaphor and I know it's crazy but he knows what he’s doing, right?

You forego the feedback sessions because you’re short on time, and he’s a professional so you’re sure he’s got it covered. There’s a small possibility this scenario will work out in your favor, but most likely you'll drive up to a wizard-inspired castle with the builder shrugging in the front lawn asking— "Good enough?"

The builder knows how to build, but he needs your input on what to build. How many bedrooms do you need? How important is the kitchen to you? Do you have a strong aversion to reclaimed wood?

If the builder were to follow his own process, he’d draw up blue prints, price out materials, and make recommendations based on previous experiences. He'd share plans and propose a timeline, making sure to get your approval each step of the way, because after all, it is your house and your money.

Without these integral collaboration steps—checking in to make sure the build is headed in the right direction both functionally and aesthetically—you rely on the builder make an educated guess about what you’re looking for in an ideal home.

Design is a process

The design process is no different. Often the first round of creative serves as a blueprint for the process. When submitting the first round of designs, I generally present the client with a few different concepts to take their temperature on the tone and feel.

As a client, you may think you’re expected to select one and call it final—but designers never really expect that. The first round just starts the conversation and focuses on the direction that resonates most with you. As a designer, checking in early helps me avoid executing a project from start to finish, only to find out that you’re not feeling it.

Many times, the first round will look drastically different than the finished product, which is no cause for concern. It simply means you’re exploring directions and have developed and refined your insights. Even if you’re not grooving with the first round of a project, it can be helpful to clarify what you aren’t responding to (or are responding negatively to). Sometimes a fresh start can benefit everyone as well; taking a step back and gaining a new perspective on the work can be refreshing, and often yields a stronger creative product.

High-level down to details

As we work to confirm high-level decisions like direction and concept, the edits become smaller and more focused, moving closer to the final design. When I go through the feedback process with my clients, I like to walk through my strategy and thinking, and point out what element I’d like to review. For example, if I’m tasked with creating a presentation, I’ll solicit feedback for layout before integrating the copy.

If I’m creating an illustration, I may pull a few style references and ask the client to react before I even put pen to paper. This helps me focus on a style that fits the client so I can deliver a finished product that's in line with their goals without spinning my wheels.

Giving feedback can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re working with a designer for the first time. Don’t worry about being harsh or clumsy with your feedback, a good designer should do her best to get to the bottom of how your thoughts translate to edits to the design.

Another helpful tip is to clarify when you are simply asking a question, and when you are suggesting an edit. In a feedback session (especially through email), I might interpret you asking a question like “Why is the logo at the bottom?” as a request to put it at the top, instead of chatting about ideal placement. As we get to know each other, we’ll get more familiar with feedback style, but it’s always a good idea to be clear and blunt.

All in all, we’re in this together, and we’re going to create something awesome. Even seemingly negative feedback has a place in the design process. The more thoughtful feedback you and your team can provide, the more impactful (and rad) your design will be. Ask questions, get specific, and don’t be afraid to say you’re not feeling it!