A client walks into a bar.
The bartender asks, “What can I get you?”
“A soft drink,” replies the client. “and make it pop.”
Why do some entrepreneurs fail while others succeed? Why are some lawyers or doctors better than others? Why do we prefer working with certain people (designers, accountants, plumbers, electricians, etc.) and avoid others?
The answer might surprise you.
It’s true that we favor people who do a great job. But it turns out that people who do a great job also often share a common trait: they’re good communicators.
The 200,000 designers and writers working on crowdSPRING have helped tens of thousands of the world’s best entrepreneurs, small business owners, agencies, Brands, agencies and non-profits with logo design, web design, graphic design, industrial design and naming.
After more than nine years and tens of thousands of projects, we know with absolute certainty that if a client wants a great result in a design or naming project, they need to do two things well: (1) draft a good creative brief (we help with that if you post a project on crowdSPRING), and (2) provide good feedback throughout the project.
Good design requires an iterative process. Just like writing, a design’s “first draft” often needs refinement and revision, editing and exploration. Your continued presence and feedback are critical to this process, and knowing how to communicate with your designer effectively is an important skill to have.
“Strong reasons make strong actions”
– King John / William Shakespeare
If a designer’s job is to take your challenges and craft solutions, your job is to provide effective, purposeful feedback.
How can you make sure you’re providing useful feedback? Here are 7 simple rules that will help ensure that your project stays on the right path.
Is your feedback specific and concise?
It’s important when you provide clear and specific feedback. One of the best ways a designer can figure out what works and what doesn’t work with their design is through your comments. “It needs more zing,” is not just vague feedback, it doesn’t give the designer any direction or explain why it needs more “zing” in the first place. You don’t want your designer to guess what you mean. Make your designers swoon with useful feedback like: “the colors you’ve picked aren’t vibrant enough – we know our target audience prefers lively, bright colors like yellow and pink.”
“How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things, but how well we are understood.”
– Andrew Grove
Are you presenting the problem or prescribing a solution?
“Doctor, I have stomach pain. Give me a prescription for an antacid and tell me to sleep on it.”
You’re working with a designer because you want their expertise. As tempting as it can be to make suggestions (“Make it like this design I created in Powerpoint last night…”), providing your designer with just the problem that needs to be solved is more effective. As subject area experts your designer has access to information and solutions that you are probably not aware of.
You want to tap into that knowledge and importantly, their creativity. Your designer doesn’t expect you to describe the issue and design the solution: that’s what they’re there to do.
How does your feedback help designers reach your objectives?
Providing specific feedback is one thing; ensuring that your feedback helps you and your designer reach your goals is another. As the saying goes, “you are not your customer.” Your opinion might represent a section of your audience, but taste is subjective.
You may hate the color brown, but if your market research shows that brown most effectively communicates your brand to your customers, that information should lead the way. (For more on color psychology in branding, check out how 21 brands use color to influence people.) Ultimately, your designer is looking for the best solution to the problems you’ve given her to solve.
Are you leaving your designer hanging?
The success of any relationship starts with communication, and design feedback is no different. Dumping a bulleted list of changes on your designer without explaining them at least minimally can leave your designer without valuable context and information. Discussing your feedback is also an important way for both of you to ensure you’re keeping the project’s objectives in mind.
Does your feedback address key issues, or is it mired in small details?
This may seem straightforward, but countless projects have been thrown off the rails fussing over tiny changes. You might be as detail-oriented as your designer, but nit-picking minor things is a great way to introduce the dreaded “scope creep”. There is even a term (“bikeshedding”) and a law (Parkinson’s Law of Triviality) devoted to the tendency for organizations to devote too much time to trivial issues. Don’t be a bikeshedder and make sure you’re focussing on the primary objectives.
“Members of an organization give disproportionate weight to trivial issues”
– Parkinson’s Law of Triviality
Is your feedback balanced enough?
It’s one thing to find issues, but designers also need to know what’s working, so make sure your feedback includes those types of comments. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) recommends the “love sandwich” as a good way to provide balanced feedback.
“The best way to approach critiquing someone else’s work is to sandwich the feedback with love. If you think of your critique as the sandwich, the bread would be what you “love” about the work and the middle—the fillings—would be what you didn’t like as much.” – AIGA – How to give and receive a good design critique
Are you treating your designer with respect?
Design projects are a collaboration: you provide the problems, the context, and the guidance, and your designer provides solutions based on best practices, research, and experience. The best partnerships are formed when both sides appreciate the value they bring to the table, and respectful discussions are a key part of that. Cliches about catching more flies with honey aside, you want your designer to do their best work, and being considerate can help them achieve that.
Does your feedback move people to action?
In the end, both you and your designer have the same goal: you want the project to be successful, and you want your problems solved. Your designer can’t read your mind – they need your input and comments to help them craft the right solution. Skills, experience, and technology may be essential tools, but your guidance and your feedback are even more important. As entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki said, “the goal is to provide inspiring information that moves people to action.”
(The posters in this article showing real client feedback are courtesy A Creative Catharsis.)
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