Five steps to more effective client critiques
As a designer, about half of my job is creating original and imaginative compositions.
The other 50 percent of my time is spent scrapping the first draft and starting anew based on client comments. Are you clueless when it comes to communicating your review notes with your designer? At a loss for words when trying to verbalize the layout in your head?
Here are some tips for you, the client, when providing feedback (from the point of view of me, the designer).
1. Collaborate with all stakeholders.
Of course I like to get positive feedback for my work. But the worst kind of positive feedback is from one client contact (“I absolutely love this full-color brochure!”), which is then quickly followed by opposing feedback from another point person (“Uhhh, we were actually thinking about a black and white flyer…”). Get it together in-house, and then send your company’s collective opinion to the consultant. Better yet, schedule a conference call so all involved parties can discuss the piece together and bounce ideas around.
2. Give both positive and negative comments.
As a client, it’s very easy to focus on what you want to be different in the next draft. But it’s equally valuable for your evaluation to include assessments that touch on the parts of the assignment that impressed you. “Don’t change a thing about the cover; it’s perfect!” This tactic will likely lead to a favorable relationship between you and designer (which means she’ll be happy to go the extra mile for you down the road when you need expedited service or a donated project for your son’s school play). More importantly, it will also ensure that she doesn’t alter the parts of the piece that please you while she’s reworking the rest of the composition.
And while I’m not saying to compliment your designer for the sake of an ego boost (honesty is paramount!), if you truly don’t like anything in a particular draft, try to incorporate at least one favorable remark into the feedback about what needs to be modified. “I can see you spent a great deal of time on the illustration; it’s quite elaborate. However, we were looking for a more simplistic drawing.”
3. Be specific.
“Hmmm, I’m just not sure it’s right.” By far, the most dreadful words to come out of a client’s mouth. Please, oh please, just give us SOMEthing to go on. We might be able to work up a first draft without a previously planned concept, but if you have absolutely no idea what you like or don’t like about what we came up with, then there is no way to move forward.
A better response: “I enjoy the way the words flow off the page, and I like the font. But the stock photos don’t represent the company’s message.” Or: “The soft edges of the graphic elements really capture the feel of the piece, but colors are too bright for the intended audience.” The more specific your feedback, the sooner you will say, “Yep, that’s just what I was looking for!”
4. Be timely.
If your designer sends you a draft on Monday, you don’t have to have your crafted reaction by Tuesday (after all, it takes time to consult with stakeholders and put thought into a detailed critique!). But stick to the project’s timeline (a smart designer or project manager will create a timeline at the beginning to ensure all parties make time for their responsibilities so the final project is finished on time). If there is no set deadline for your feedback, you might ask the designer when she expects a response, or assume that one week is a reasonable time frame. Remember to allow time for multiple rounds of revisions, and keep your project’s target date in mind.
If you know you aren’t going to review the document right away, do your designer a favor and at least acknowledge that you received the link or file, and that you’ll get back to her in a few days. We’re dying in anticipation over here, wondering if you like it — throw us a bone!
5. Provide adequate direction before the initial draft.
One way to avoid a whole lot of feedback drama is to let your designer know what it is you are looking for right off the bat. If there is a certain style you want, you’ll save money (if you’re paying hourly) and aggravation (if you get frustrated when people can’t read your mind) by not playing the “just-use-your-creativity” game. This scheme — where you give your designer complete freedom — only works when you have an open mind and a good relationship with the designer.
And just because you provide a general angle for the piece doesn’t mean the artist won’t squeeze her own creative juices into the composition, so don’t worry about lost opportunity for a unique idea.