Managing Client Feedback
After reviewing the design brief and performing your own research, you believe you have a good idea on what the client is looking for. As such, you devote time and effort into creating the best design possible. Confident, you present your work to the client — only to receive feedback that it doesn’t fully meet their expectations.
At the same time, just because you are the professional doesn’t mean you should force your opinions down the client’s throat. Such actions will not only damage your relationship with the client, you might even lose the project altogether.
The last thing you want to do is view every feedback as a personal attack and get overly emotional. Remember, you are providing a service to the client, which means meeting their needs as best as you can. In order to achieve success as a freelancer, you have to put your ego to one side and learn how to manage client feedback well.
WHY DOES A CLIENT GIVE FEEDBACK?
The first thing you should realize is that the design process, while important in establishing client expectations, can be unpredictable at times. There’s really no way to know how the client will feel upon seeing your work. After all, graphic design is subjective, so what looks good to you might not work for the client. If they feel that you have missed the mark, then it’s only natural that they help you get on the right track.
See also: A Typical Design Process
In fact, having a client that gives feedback is more often than not a good thing. It shows that they are invested in the design process in one way or another. A project is most likely to be successful when there is ongoing collaboration between you and the client. As such, you should always respect the client’s opinions, whether positive or negative.
HOW TO MANAGE FEEDBACK EFFECTIVELY
An attribute you should develop as a graphic designer is the ability to take things in your stride and be open to new possibilities. After all, you will be dealing with clients who may or may not disagree with you.
In general, try to analyze every feedback from the client and seek clarification if necessary by asking specific questions. Feedback can either guide you towards meeting the client’s needs, or just be downright negative. You have to identify the type of feedback provided and act accordingly.
In any case, always remain respectful, careful, and calm. It’s important that your responses are professional and well thought out. Do your best to explain your design rationale so the client can better understand where you are coming from.
A support group is another way to help you manage client feedback, especially in times of frustration. A fellow designer can encourage you to take a step back and see the situation from a different perspective.
There might be cases where the client tries to push the blame on you for making bad design decisions and demand compensation, even after they have agreed to finalize the project. As such, you should document the feedback provided to prove that you have done your due diligence in addressing the client’s concerns, thereby freeing yourself from any liabilities.
DEALING WITH DIFFERENT TYPES OF FEEDBACK
Let’s start with the good. When the client provides constructive feedback, which translates to feedback that is specific, unbiased, and allows you to take immediate action. It can also add a fresh perspective and uncover potential areas for improvement. After freelancing for some time, it’s not unusual to find yourself picking up some bad habits, which you might not be aware of and can be hard to break. As such, you should always be open-minded to constructive feedback, since it gives you opportunities to better your skills as a graphic designer.
As most clients aren’t familiar with graphic design (which is why they hired you), it’s not uncommon for them to ask for changes that go against the fundamentals of design. In such cases, you have to reestablish yourself as the expert, educate the client, and remind them that you are working with them to make the project a success. Most likely, the client will value and follow your advice.
One suggestion is to mock up your concepts before presenting them to the client. Seeing your work in context will make it easier for them to visualize your vision and convince them that you know what you are doing.
Some clients might provide feedback that is vague. You will have to take the initiative and dig deeper to find out what exactly they have in mind. One approach is to provide some options for them and keep them involved in the process. For example, if they are unsure on what colors to use you can present them with a few color schemes that you feel will work well with the design. Remember, you want feedback that’s actionable, otherwise you will be wasting time and effort on uncertainties, which is never a good thing.
Oftentimes, the client will request for changes that influence the scope of the project without realizing it. It’s your job to help them understand the effects of such changes, particularly on pricing.
A more difficult situation is when the client wants to abandon the design brief and go in a different direction altogether. It’s important to tread carefully here; talk to the client and find out the reason behind the decision, then decide whether such drastic changes are truly warranted. If not, you have to convince the client and propose better alternatives.
The worst case scenario is when the client absolutely hates your work and rejects everything you have done so far. It’s a huge blow to you as a graphic designer. No one will blame you if you feel the need to defend your position. However, the better approach is to take a step down and think things through rationally before crafting a response.
First, you have to determine whether the feedback has any tangible value or is purely emotional. If it’s the former, you can assess the value and use it to formulate your next course of action. If it’s the latter, you should still try to understand where the client is coming from — more often than not there is a reason why the client is acting this way. In the event that you need to start over, be sure to earnestly reevaluate the objectives of the project with the client and reestablish expectations so the same situation doesn’t happen again.
Choose your battles wisely. Always do your best to reach a compromise and focus on moving forward.
Unfortunately, there will be (rare) instances when the client refuses to listen to anything you have to say, and insists on having their way. Even worse, they can just be plain negative and will take any chance to put you down.
See also: Avoiding Bad Clients
Now, you are faced with two choices. The easiest and least stressful is to give up on the project and not work with the client ever again. Be honest with them and try not to end things on a bad note.
Otherwise, you just have to grit your teeth, separate yourself from the work, and do what they ask. You can try to offer advice to the client from time to time, but your main concern would be to get the project over and done with as soon as possible. At the end of the day, freelancing is a business, and if the client is happy, you get paid.
In the end, managing client feedback is a matter of patience and persistence. When done well, it will help establish you as a professional who is willing to work with the client. That means you have to be prepared to find middle ground and leave your pride on the backburner, while guiding the client towards an end result that is satisfactory to both parties.