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Feedback guidelines—Do you use them?

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  • Feedback guidelines—Do you use them?

    Over the years I've learned that giving clients some general feedback guidelines can make huge improvements to your client relationships. This has helped me to avoid headaches like overly prescriptive feedback, and feedback that is too heavily based on personal taste. While of course I still run into these things, it has helped to minimize them.

    That being said, I'm curious about how other designers choose to communicate feedback guidelines to their clients.

    Do any of you put feedback guidelines in your contracts—for example, to discourage clients from sending feedback in the form of a comp (this is the worst)?

    Do you require clients to keep feedback within the organization so they're not sending designs out to random people (you know—to get their nephew's opinion because they took a graphic design course at the community college)? I recently had a client send an unfinished design out to a select group of their customers for feedback in the 11th hour of the project. I expressed many reasons why this type of feedback was not helpful, but they couldn't understand.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • #2
    With us, all communication between us and the client needs to go through their designated representative. We can't deal with random comments from a dozen different people who all contradict each other with confused thoughts and ideas.

    We also let them know that this is in their interest since confusion takes up time and costs them more money.

    We also try not to let clients take comps with them for the very reasons you mentioned. For example, "I thought I loved this idea at first, but then I showed it to my wife's brother-in-law who's studying arts and crafts through a correspondence course and he thinks..." Of course it they insist on taking the comps back to the office, we'll usually cave, but we try to avoid it.

    We also try to establish a workflow with the clients that include a series of meetings where we discuss things as a group instead of through a bunch of one-off phone calls and emails. Again, we tell the clients that this makes the process quicker, more efficient and, in the end, saves them money.

    Finally, I've noticed that when we just act like we're in charge and the procedures are just part of the standard way we always do business, the clients typically go along with it and feel reassured that we're on top of things. Of course it doesn't always work that way -- there's always a client or two who's difficult to deal with, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

    Other than that, we don't really have any specific guidelines that we give to clients. When things go haywire, as the sometimes do, we play it by ear.


    • #3
      Goodness. I'm glad I've never had a client ask their nephew or customers during the design process. How often is this happening? Is it a cultural thing?

      I don't have any specific guidelines on feedback. Every client is so different and you can be fairly certain that most clients will not be reading any feedback guidelines you send to them.

      I work to pretty tight deadlines which takes out this process as an option. But if it happened, I'd skim through the feedback to see if there was anything worth using. If I didn't agree with a piece of feedback, I would tell the client why the actual suggestion was not good, rather than criticise the method of how it was attained. You never know, a brilliant idea might come from an unexpected place.
      It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" – Winnie the Pooh


      • #4
        Thanks for sharing B. I also adhere to most of the practices you listed. Although, when I can't meet with a client in person, I have no choice but to do the presentation online. In this case, I usually go over the design with the primary decision-makers, answer questions, etc., and then the presented design is available to them afterwards in the form of a PDF. This is when the client sometimes chooses to download and share the design with those outside the organization. Also, since I price per project, unfortunately I can't use the "sticking to this process will save you money" tactic.

        Thanks for your thoughts Buda. I usually request a feedback turnaround of 48 hours. As you mentioned, usually I'm not privy to who clients gather feedback from—I'm sure they're getting opinions from all over the place. I respect your method of trying to decode their feedback and focusing on what's usable. I do this as well, but I also like to educate the client on what is helpful and what is not so we don't repeat the same mistakes in the future.

        When I provide feedback guidelines upfront, my hope is that it might help clients remember to keep their focus on what we're trying to achieve rather than getting too caught up on the wrong things. I like to instruct clients to keep feedback within the core group of decision-makers because outside sources haven't seen the design brief. They're likely unaware of the goals we're trying to achieve, the target audience, the previous design directions we've already explored—they're more likely being asked "what do you think about this logo?" All that being said, the recent occurrence was a brand new one and really threw me for a loop. I've never had a client share unfinished work with customers before.

        Do either of you have to deal with clients that give you feedback in the form of their own comp? If so, how do you deal with this?
        Last edited by onebadlanding; 10-05-2016, 08:41 PM.


        • #5
          It really depends on the client. I do sometimes get comps. I do work for a company and I deal with 3 of their staff. I think 2 are animators and 1 is a marketing guy, so for them, visual comps are easier to describe what they want. So the past few days, the client has put together examples of what they want using samples of things they found on the internet. It's up to me to interpret it, make it relevant to their brand and improve it. I'm lucky that they trust me to pick out what works and what doesn't. I don't follow their comps to the letter but it's a useful starting point.

          This wouldn't work for every client and I don't think there is a one size fits all.

          If I suspect a client had their heart set on something that I don't think will work, I'll explain why it won't work. But if they insist, I might send a sample anyway.

          I never tell clients how long they have a proof for but I always follow up after 1 week or I follow up 24 hours later if I know it's an urgent deadline.

          By the way, most of my proofs are done via email. Don't know if that changes things or not?
          It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" – Winnie the Pooh


          • #6
            I've had this happen one too many times, " my mother really likes blue" "my nephew says it should be justified" "the neighbor does printing in his garage and he says" on and on. (All true by the way) Until I developed a speech that gets shared fairly early in our relationship. I explain that their target markets don't include their mother, their nephew, their neighbor, etc. In fact I tell my clients that their target market doesn't even include them or their employees. They are too close to be objective. I then compare my services to their service or goods, and explain just as they didn't solicit uniformed critique while developing their service/goods because it is unproductive, I don't either.


            • #7
              Originally posted by onebadlanding View Post
              Although, when I can't meet with a client in person, I have no choice but to do the presentation online.
              Yeah, that can be a problem, and I run into it from time to time in my after-hours freelance work. And yes, it sometimes leads to the same unpredictable results you've mentioned. At the place I work, though, we rarely show PDF comps online -- we try to control the environment. We'll meet at their place to talk, but when we have something to show, they come here.

              A whole bunch of years ago when I was an intern in a graphic design studio, the guys I was working for took me along to a presentation they were invited to make for a new hotel that had opened in town. It was a good-sized hotel that took up most of an entire city block. The hotel's PR company suggested that the decor they had chosen looked dated, stuffy and stodgy. They suggested hiring the place I was interning at to give them a more appropriate look for some logos and brochures. We spent a week coming up with some really nice comps.

              We head over to show the CEO the comps we'd come up with, and he hates everything. He wanted more do-dads and old-fashioned decorations added to it, so he grabs the comp and starts drawing on it with a felt-tipped pen. He drew in all kinds of curly lines and various flourishes, then told us to make it look like he'd drawn. When the guys I was with tried to reason with him he grabbed the comps and rushed out of his office to round up half his staff. He lined up the staff, said he improved on what we had made and asked if they all agreed. Being his employees they all nodded their heads yes. Then he turned to us and said, the opinion was unanimous that it needed to be changed. The guys I was with just picked up the comp, thanked him for his time and walked away from the whole thing.


              • onebadlanding
                onebadlanding commented
                Editing a comment
                Hahaha, wow. That's an incredible story. I can see how the comp certainly didn't help, but there was probably no saving that scenario. I think that's a great example of a mismatch between designer and client. The client clearly didn't trust the expert, so that project was destined to fail.

                Over the years I've tried to come up with some safeguards against this type of mismatch, using emails that set expectations for process, minimum engagement amount, etc. But, sometimes clients get through the barriers. In those cases, I just do my best to either complete the project with grace. I haven't felt the need to walk away yet.

            • #8
              Heh, considering all the angles feedback can take makes me realize how different things have become for me since taking a full-time(+) contract position with my primary client, where one of my main functions is working with/for product engineers. While they develop products, I develop customer-facing technical materials in support of those products. So essentially, my process is their process, and engineers work very differently than most graphic designers and their clients. Feedback takes on many forms and comes from many sources all along the many stages in this scenario.

              Engineers (and I) conceptualize, review, prototype, test, iterate, review, test, iterate, test, refine, review, iterate, scrap, redesign, review, test, iterate, order samples, test, review, iterate, test, consult Legal, review, confer, test, iterate, consult Standards, review, test, iterate, test, review with Corporate Quality, review with the Aesthetics & Ergonomics team, iterate, test, review, refine, test....

              I know that all seems like exaggeration, but it is in fact an abridged encapsulation of the process that repeats any number of times on the way to a product launch, and every time the words "test," "review," and "iterate" appear, more feedback is generated by one or more sources, all of which are setting guidelines; not following them. And for each new product (line), there could be up to a dozen or so (each) specification documents, install guides, selection guides, measuring guides, labels, tags, electronic forms, and more. It took me over a year of doing this to adjust and learn what to expect, let alone how to cope with it and function well within it. Over 4 years in, I'm still learning, inventing process, and like engineers, spending as much, if not more, time determining how not to do something than how to do it. As a graphic designer, this is overwhelming, practically as a rule. I've never worked harder.
              I'd rather be killed than come to your party, but if you don't invite me, I'll kill myself.


              • #9
                Somewhat related article (more fine arts oriented, but the message can apply to GD too I think)

                I've never gone so far as to set up feedback guidelines, it seems too formal for most of my clients. But when I ask for feedback I try to frame questions so that I get the right kind of feedback, like asking "Do you think this represents your brand?" rather than "Do you like it?"

                I agree that taking charge from the start can really help.

                The worst clients, for me, are the ones who admit they don't know anything about graphic design and say they want you to come up with something really creative they haven't thought of, but then they send you a comp and don't like anything you do that's different. I have one of those clients right now. The silver lining is that she's paying by the hour...


                • #10
                  I think it's worth pointing out that the public perception of what a "Graphic Designer" is and does fluctuates more than ever.

                  One person might think a Graphic Designer is "an artist" and their job is "to use design software to produce the best representation of my vision", while another might think a Graphic Designer is "a creative professional" and their job is to "use strategic and thoughtful design to solve business goals". These are very different perceptions and it's understandable that someone on either end of the spectrum would expect very different processes and results.

                  I can see how trying to implement heavy feedback guidelines for the first type of client might just over complicate the process. I fall on the strategic end of the spectrum. My focus is on integrated visual identity projects for emerging businesses. That might help explain why I feel it's important to implement feedback guidelines.


                  • #11
                    I have never thought to do this! What an amazing idea!!! As a freelancer with clients who are primarily entrepreneurs and small businesses, I don't think I could swing hard and fast rules for feedback, but just having a quick list of bullets with things like, "When soliciting feedback from acquaintances, try to ask people who are within your target market" could be immensely helpful.

                    Because the whole, "I asked my significant other/mother/brother and he/she thought..." happens all the time when you're working with other startups. Because it simply hasn't occurred to them that there might be a better resource out there. And, like onebadlanding said, everyone's definition of what a graphic designer is is different. And some people's definition is, "anyone who's good at artsy type stuff."


                    • #12
                      Resurrecting this thread to ask a related question.

                      On the first point - onebadlanding has clearly read Design is a Job by Mr Monteiro! I find that clients welcome the feedback guidelines I use (based on his outline), especially if they haven't had much experience of working with a designer. It goes without saying that the earlier you communicate how you take feedback the better. Not only that, as Monteiro goes on to say, not all feedback should be treated as a request for changes. Even with the best of intentions, the "clients wife/husband/friend/son/daughter/dog" moment seems inevitable. In that scenario, I usually encourage them to present the work in a way that resembles the real world, so they don't open the design up to tonnes of useless feedback that is irreconcilable with the project goals. In the round though, many clients say "nobody else explained this to me!"

                      My related question is about comping and the contract. Mike Monteiro takes a pretty hard line on this and recommends putting that the client cannot comp in the contract. I've never seen a clause like this, nor can I think how you'd word that without it being over aggressive. One existing clause that may represent the same thing is the "transfer of contract" clause. Presumably if the client starts mocking stuff up themselves, this gives you the ability to say that you are now competing with them for the job of designer which is unacceptable, just as it would be if they brought another designer in. Another clause is more to do with copyright, where you can stipulate that "the client may not modify the work without your consent." Again, I imagine that you could argue that by comping, the client is modifying the work and violating the contract. I've had a little pushback to these clauses from clients who essentially believe that in a client - supplier relationship, they are the boss and can feedback as they like.

                      Has anyone here even considered the "no comp" rule (or similar) in their contract, and is there any wording out there that nudges clients in the right direction, rather than forcing their hand?


                      • #13
                        How much business do you want to lose?
                        Perhaps someone the likes of Milton Glaser can put in a No Comp, No Messing with the Artwork rule, but the average client is going to look askance at a designer with those clauses in the contract (if they even read the contract.)

                        On the subject of copyright, you have to think really really hard about where the line is drawn between copyright held by the client in their provided assets and copy, and your layout. They can do whatever they want with their assets and text.

                        The idea is to provide an environment of guidance and support in order to get the client the result that they need, not necessarily the one they think they want.


                        • #14
                          Yes I’d agree with your thoughts PrintDriver - I just wondered if anyone has actually had the balls to do it. Maybe it’s just Mike and Mule Design, who knows? Reading between the lines in his book, it seems like “competing for work you’ve already won” is Mike Monteiro’s red line, and the client comp clause is there to rectify that.

                          Personally, I use the “Cure” clause here, which simply asks that if there is a problem, or an error, that the client gives me a realistic opportunity to fix it. That seems in the spirit of the agreement and should be fair enough to any client.

                          Regarding “the line” between copyright held by the client and my stuff - I’d hope that is implied by asking the client to supply text/images/assets on a non-exclusive basis solely to complete the job. You’re right that this makes it slight more complex at the end of the process, because they may see this as a collaboration and as such they will own everything you’ve done. But that perhaps opens the can of worms around exclusive rights and source files which is probably well covered in other threads!


                          • #15
                            .Double post!






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