How to Deal With Subjective Feedback From the Client

#projectmanagement#workflow#educational

Subjective design feedback is a special kind of obstacle course for any web agency/studio. But can we get rid of it? Let's figure it out together!

Surely you have come across similar messages from your clients about your design "not selling enough" or "my site must be unique among uniqueness", which are not distinguished by their objectivity. But what if we go deeper and ask ourselves: what led us to subjectivity in feedback? Let me tell you a secret: a way of your communication with the client directly affects his perception of your work.

“What Do you Think?”

Think about how often it happened that you unknowingly make a request for feedback with seemingly innocent requests “share your opinion about the chosen color palette” or “let me know what you think about it”. Such suggestions look like: "I need approval, because I'm not sure if I'm ready to move on to the next stage of the project".

When it comes to web design, we have to understand that it is not 100% objective in itself. Everyone will have their own opinion: other designers, the client’s partner and etc. But we don’t really want to know whether the client “likes” our design. The first thing we are interested in is their business aim, because the design is called up to solve specific problems.

It’s important to understand, you can’t completely eliminate subjectivity in feedback, but that’s not a bad thing. It can often be based on really useful information. However, realizing that your communication process may be causing useless feedback can help you deal with or at least minimize it.

Yes or No

The most logical and easiest way to avoid subjective feedback about your project is to use clear questions. It might take a little bit more effort than unconsciously submitting your design with an abstract "what do you think" caption. Instead, try asking closed-ended “yes or no” questions. Trust me, it's worth it.

As strange as it sounds, before sending your finished design, you should... love it. I don’t mean the relationship between Pygmalion and Galatea, but it is corny to speak about your work is done clearly, confidently and, most mainly, positively.

Make it clear that you are truly pleased with the way the design represents your client's brand. You are ready to move on to the next stage of the project and the only thing that interests you is whether they agree. If not, what should you pay attention to for correction? If yes, then triumphantly proceed to further work. Don't be afraid to show yourself confidently, because if you are sending your work to a client, then you should be proud of it.

Using yes or no questions actually act painkiller for people:

  • Firstly, you relieve people of unnecessary pressure by forcing them to contribute to your work. Surprisingly, but when people turn to professionals for website design, the last thing they want to have is brainstorm “Do ghost buttons reflect the deep thought of their eco-soap brand?”.
  • Secondly, you save not only yours but also the client’s time. Even short answers “I wouldn’t change anything”, “I like everything” take some time.

Add Context to Your Design

Actually, if you don’t add context to your work, somewhere in the world one client cries. Tell the stakeholders personally about your design concept step by step, answering any questions. Don't leave your design without context, take the time and describe the design process in plain words to the client.

Explaining your design decisions is a little bit like a physics lab work in high school, where you had to describe each step of your experiment. A number of problems can arise with it: from banal laziness and lack of time to an incomprehensible feelling of fear. Yes, it can be quite frightening and tiring, but it is a surefire way to combat subjective reviews. Include your charisma: explain not only how the proposed design will work, but also the reasons behind your design decisions.

Two Heads aren’t Better Than One

Design feedback tends to grow like a snowball as more people find themselves caught up in an ever-growing thread of conflicting opinions. One side doesn’t like your design, the other seems that the font color isn't selling enough, and the third is just missing something. And everyone thinks they are right.

To avoid too many opinions, don't be afraid to limit feedback flows. If you wish, you can divide them into groups based on competencies in order to contact on certain issues. For example, a legal group will provide legal feedback, which will reduce unwanted brand feedback from the legal entity.

However, there is a risk of being misunderstood in a situation, where you exclude some people from feedback or minimize it. In order not to make yourself problems because of it, make a knight's move and share the project with an even wider circle of people, but don’t forget to point out that it’s done solely for their awareness and that you are not interested in feedback at this stage.

Stakeholder #1 VS Stakeholder #2 = Contradictory Feedback

Contradictory opinions from two or more interested parties are another killer of healthy communication without subjective feedback. Think about it, have you ever been in a situation where you have received conflicting feedback from two stakeholders? For example, one finds it a great solution to use white space, while the other finds it boring and irrelevant. Have you stood at a crossroads deciding who is more important and who you should listen to? The best way out of this situation is to ask your client or internal stakeholders for a single point of contact through which any and all feedback is filtered. Thus, you shift the responsibility for choosing the boss of feedback from yourself to the client.

Mission Failed

If even after all the conditions are met, you receive subjective feedback and it seems to you that this is unfair, then I hasten to answer you: yes, it is. There is little space for justice in life, but there is no need to despair. Eventually, you can ask the client to send you some links to sites that they think look "selling". This is a great way to decipher the cryptic meaning of “selling” and use it in your design work.

Summary

Of course, you will not be able to overcome completely subjective feedback, but the right way of communication with the client will help you achieve incredible results. For this:

  • Ask specific closed-ended questions,
  • Don't be afraid to limit the number of contacts, who can leave you a review,
  • Give more context to your work,
  • Make a request for a single point of contact,
  • Be confident,
  • Be creative,
  • Be positive!

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