A big challenge faced by those working in creative design is presenting their work effectively to clients. Unlike when in the safe haven of the studio, designers have to deal with opinionated and impatient clients, and if this process is not handled correctly, it can have a detrimental impact on the project as a whole.
Have you ever sent off your work – perhaps a logo design or web design – to a client only to receive a TONNE of feedback? What you thought was a great piece of work has been torn apart by everyone in the client’s office and now you’re left to pick up the pieces. In the worst situations, the response is contradictory and poorly written, meaning that when you act on their feedback the end result is much worse than it was before you sent it!
Well, fear not, because there is a better way.
Stop emailing your work to clients
First of all, you’ve got to get out of the awful habit of sending your work to clients via email. This creates a huge gap between you and the client; a space that is often filled with unhelpful feedback and endless emails. What you have to do instead, is get on a call with them.
Before you show them anything, arrange a video call to share your screen. By speaking directly you can share your vision, answer any on-the-go questions and explain the reasoning for your design choices. It also makes the client feel much more involved (and making people feel listened to is very important).
But sharing your work in this way takes courage. Even seasoned designers don’t want to be there at the moment the client first sees their work. It can be scary. But you’ve got to rise to this challenge if you are to grow as a designer. Here are some tips to help you get past this fear and manage the process:
Ask the client what they like about your design work
Picture the scene: there are three people on the client’s side, all staring back at you over Zoom. Your mouse pointer hovers over the “share screen” button. You click. You nervously confidently ask “can you see my screen yet?”
“Yes”, comes the reply, giving nothing away.
Ask your client to remain silent whilst you present your work. Talk through the main points, then ask “so what do you like about this?”
When you ask your client what they like it keeps the mood light and the feedback positive. Even if they don’t feel that the design is there yet, asking this question helps to focus on the parts that appeal to them. This is important, because you won’t be able to hold a productive conversation if the client is responding purely to negative emotion. Get them to think.
Once you’ve had the feel-good vibes, the next question is to find out how it could be better.
Ask the client how your work might be improved
Once you have assessed what the client likes about your work, the next step is to figure out how they believe it might be improved. Note: we are not asking what they DON’T like here – that is far too negative. Even if they don’t like it very much at all, by framing it as an “improvement” the conversation will remain healthier.
There is one crucially important factor to keep in mind here: the end user of the work. It doesn’t matter whether this is a website design, brand identity or a YouTube video – it’s not your client who needs to be impressed, it’s the audience. This means it is important that you know who the intended audience is, so that when personal opinions emerge (“I don’t like the green”, “can we make this a bit bigger”) you can ask the more objective question: what would our end user think about that? Never try to act on feedback on the call; instead make notes for actioning later.
Lastly, here is one thing you need to avoid at all costs…
Never, ever ask “what do you think?”
It can be so tempting to simply ask your client this question. But the question itself is too open. It invites unhelpful responses. Most clients are not able to answer such a broad question and will fill their reply with whatever first comes to mind. Remember, they need guidance. They need you to take their hand and ask the right questions, so that they can give useful answers.
If you’re not convinced that this question is a bad idea, try it!
It’s time to level up your feedback process
If you decide to act on the advice given in this article, you will automatically find yourself in the top 10% of design providers. This is because you will have dramatically enhanced the service element of your business. Most people fire off an email and hope for the best. If you’d like to improve your client relations, earn more money and do less work, try walking your clients through the feedback phase on a call. You won’t regret it.
Matt Saunders is a business coach for freelancers. He’s worked in the sector for 20 years and loves lifting up others to help them become the best version of themselves.