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Resplendence, a blog from Radiant Resolution about graphic design

Giving Feedback Without Frustrating Your Designer

Just as there are all kinds of clients, there are all kinds of designers. Designers are artists, and art is subjective. We have been trained since starting our education and careers that critiques are part of the process, and you can’t please everyone. Taking the criticism and coming up with a project that makes your client satisfied (or beyond!) is your designer’s number one goal. And most designers have developed a thick skin by critiquing our peer’s work and learning to communicate efficiently. So as a client, how can you give constructive feedback to your designer in order to have a finished product you’re happy with?

Designers are most excited about your project at the very beginning. You’ll have their full attention at your first meeting, and it’s important to be very clear about what you want at the start. Most designers will be quickly frustrated if they’ve sent you a design they think nailed the mark as you discussed, and then lots of design edits (or even a redesign) is requested. Your designer may become less passionate about the project with every change you request, and if you are requesting too many edits, you may also be incurring additional hourly charges. So here are some tips to avoid frustrating your designer (and yourself), and ending up with a project that’s just what you are looking for.

Provide samples.

Designers love when you send samples of other work you like for instpiration. Whenever possible, you can even use projects from the designer’s own portfolio that you like. Design is about researching (lots of) other work, becoming inspired, and creating something better. Just be sure to provide samples at the start of the project, and not after the designer has already started the process of designing. Be clear from the beginning.

Communication early on is key.

Be sure to note everything you’d like in your design (photos, specific text, colors, etc.) at the start. Try not to leave anything out. When a designer compiles a design and then hears, “I forgot to tell you I need to include another photo and an additional paragraph,” it’s not as simple of a change as you might think. Also, keep track of your requests in case you need to refer back to them later. If you feel like the designer totally missed the mark, go back to your original e-mails or meeting notes and see if it was possible that you miscommunicated what you really wanted. If you feel you were clear, provide your original notes to the designer to remind them what you had originally stated.

Don’t be a “no” person.

Whenever possible, give suggestions. The more input you have, the more likely the designer will be able to deliver what you’re looking for. It’s difficult for a designer to read your mind if your feedback is simply “I don’t like it. Can you do something different?”

Be as specific as possible.

Make your directions for edits easy-to-follow and very specific. Use increments (move about 1 inch to the left) or be as descriptive as possible (change the lime green to a hunter green. Here is a sample of the color). The more specific you can be, the more closely your project will be as you requested.

BUT, keep it simple.

Yes I know I’m contradicting my last tip. Being specific about what changes you want is fair, but keep the reasoning simple. Designers have to go through seemingly endless e-mails with edits each day, so the longer your e-mail is, the harder it is to stay focused on the tasks at hand. Don’t give a long reasoning behind each edit unless it’s completely necessary. “The text on page 4 is redundant and I feel like we’ve already mentioned it in the beginning of the pamphlet so let’s change that by eliminating the wording on page 4.” Did you zone out on that sentence? It would have been easier to say “Delete the words _____ on page 4.” Using bullet points instead of lengthy paragraphs is also a helpful way for designers to check off each task as they complete it.

Provide changes in an acceptable format.

Acceptable formats do not include 100 post-it notes stuck all over the project, or red, hand-drawn changes scribbled on Snapchat (yes, really, I have received this). Be clear about what you need. I usually accept PDF Markup or changes typed in an email or text document. I’ll also tell clients they can drag the proof image into a Powerpoint presentation and circle what needs changing, accompanied by a description. Handwritten notes are often difficult to read, and if you don’t use the designer’s standard editing marks you may be miscommunicating. (Click here for a key to standardized copy editing marks!)

Provide options.

Before requesting to add a lot of new text, images, or content to a first-pass design, ask the designer if the new content you’re providing will fit. The new content may fit, but at the cost of reducing the size of something else like the text becoming an unreadable size. If it’s necessary for your new content to be included, be sure to note what can be deleted or reduced in size if necessary.

Don’t ask your designer to be your copy editor.

If you ask your designer for their opinion about something you’ve written, you are a) asking someone who may not be an expert in this field and b) possibly incurring more charges if this is a separate service they offer. Which brings us to…

Inquire about extra charges.

If you have a big request, be sure to ask the designer if it will incur more charges. Don’t just assume everything will be covered under your previously agreed upon price. A designer should let you know whenever changes incur additional fees, but it doesn’t hurt to check yourself.

Trust your designer.

Sometimes your designer may respond negatively to a suggestion you provide, and it may be because it’s just not a good suggestion. Your designer usually knows best, so it’s important to trust their professional opinion and expertise. If they say something is going to ruin your project, it very well may. This means you may have to let go of something you are very attached to, but it is probably for the betterment of your design purpose or message.

If all else fails, be courteous.

Designers aim to please, and nothing makes us happier than a completing a successful project for a friendly client. If you’re rude and unreasonable to your designer, it’s possible they will turn down another project from you in the future (or even quit the current project), and they will probably warn other designers about working with you.

Now it’s the client’s turn! How could designers be more clear in their communication to you? Comment your suggestions below!

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About Brittany Klein

Brittany Klein is a freelance graphic designer from Maryland. She established her company, Radiant Resolution, in 2008 after receiving her Master of Arts degree in graphic design from Savannah College of Art & Design. She has since written blogs, e-books, and articles centered around graphic design and fine art for many organizations across the country.

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