Speak Your Mind: How to tell a designer exactly what you think

If you’ve ever worked on a project that made you feel continually frustrated with the work the designer sent you, and you felt like the designer was getting equally frustrated with your dissatisfaction, odds are it had something to do with less-than-perfect communication.

When working with a designer, good feedback is the key to getting what you’re looking for. But what exactly makes feedback good or bad? Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to convey your thoughts about a concept and get the results you—and the designer—want.

Say no.

Let’s say you’re you’re presented with a concept you really don’t like, and you feel like the designer totally missed the mark. How do you respond to it?

“Wow, that is terrible.”

“I hate it, try again.”

“Just…no.”

Of course you don’t say any of that, because those are some of the worst things you could say to a designer! Right? Shouldn’t you try to say something nice, even if you don’t like it? They are a human being with feelings, after all.

Wrong. Well, you’re right that they are human. But you’re wrong to think that you absolutely have to say something nice.

Telling a designer you like something that you really don’t because you don’t want to hurt their feelings is much, much worse than any of the mean responses above. Yes, they do have feelings and you shouldn’t be an asshole, but this isn’t about their feelings. Part of being a good designer is being able to take criticism. Would you believe me if I told you there are actual courses designers take in college that just teach them how to give and receive critique? They can handle it. And I promise, it won’t be the first or last time they get negative feedback.

Obviously, you don’t need to be rude; you just need to be honest. Those responses above are pretty mean, but they’re also completely unhelpful. Designers value constructive feedback much more than nice feedback. Tell them what you specifically don’t like about it and why you think it doesn’t help accomplish your goals. If it helps you feel less harsh, think about negative feedback as a redirection for the designer, not an insult. Here’s an example of feedback that’s direct and helpful, despite it being negative:

Thanks for sending this design. I appreciate the thought you put into it, but this isn’t the direction I was hoping for. The color scheme is too playful, and I’m looking for something more sophisticated that will attract my audience of 45+ year-old successful female entrepreneurs.

As a designer, I wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled that my client didn’t ADORE the design I sent them, but I would expect them to tell me if they didn’t. And I would be grateful to have some actionable feedback that I know I can use to improve the design.

Get visual.

Don’t feel like you need to learn any wacky jargon to get your point across to a designer. Even using words like “retro” or “rustic” can cause confusion, because words mean different things to different people.

Designers are visual by nature, so just open Pinterest, Dribbble, or (my favorite) Designspiration in a new tab and start looking for what you have in mind. You don’t even need to find pictures that are exactly what you want; if there’s an illustration style you’re drawn to or a font you think could work perfectly for your project, save it. The more you can find, the better. Providing at least 8-10 images is helpful for the designer to find commonalities and get a better handle on your vision.

Image credit:  cocolia.cat  / curated on  designspiration

Image credit: cocolia.cat / curated on designspiration

When you send these to the designer, be very specific about what it is you like in the images. For example, I used the image to the left as inspiration for my own branding. I like the way it plays off of a traditional primary color scheme and also incorporates hand-drawn patterns. If you don’t normally say things like “traditional primary color scheme,” saying, “I like how bright and bold all the colors are without clashing” gets the point across just as well.

If you don’t get specific enough with your feedback, you might not get the results you want. Even though I was drawn to this image, I don’t necessarily want abstract legs popping up anywhere in my brand or gloopy amoebas hanging out on my website. But if you sent this picture to a designer and just said “I like this,” those might be the things they pick up on and run with.

On that note, you’ll notice that my website does not look exactly like that picture I used for inspiration. That image is lovely, but it’s not mine. It would be wrong (and illegal, actually) to recreate it and pretend it was mine. It should go without saying, but do not ask a designer to rip off another design. The point of providing visual cues is to help the designer draw inspiration from them, not create a duplicate.

 

Sleep on it.

It’s tempting to hit reply, type away, and send that feedback as soon as you get it, but that really isn’t the wisest thing to do. Your designer should give you at least a couple days to review a design, so take advantage of that time to mull it over.

If you don’t, here’s what I can guarantee will happen:

*sends message* Boom, feedback sent, let’s move on to the next round! Oh wait, my phone number was listed wrong there. *sends another message with the correct phone number* Cool, now we’re all set. Actually, hold on a sec, I think I want to use this picture instead on the home page. *sends ANOTHER message with the new picture* Sweet, that should be it. I think. Wait, why did they use that font? I thought we were going with a different one. I’ll just ask real quick…

Tell me I’m wrong. The thing is, all of that feedback is totally valid and very helpful to the designer, but they can’t help but get frustrated when they’re bombarded with message after message.

Instead, look at what they’ve presented and start a draft or write down your feedback. The next day, look at it again and add to it. Then, when you finally feel like you got it all, send one message with all your well-thought-out feedback.

Better yet, format your feedback in a bulleted list. Section it off if you can to make it easier to digest. Most importantly (and I know how obvious this sounds) READ your feedback. Read it out loud if you have to. You’ll save yourself so much time explaining yourself in future messages if you are as clear as possible from the beginning. And if you have to get feedback from other members of your team as well, just include it all in one message instead of letting everyone contribute separately. Your designer will thank you.

Keep it to yourself.

Since we’re talking about other people’s feedback… getting another set of eyes (or two, or ten) on a design is always a good thing, right? Well, frankly, no. Not always.

It’s one thing if your 50/50 business partner wants a say in the branding or if your marketing director needs to have input. That’s understandable. It’s another thing to ask your husband, your sister, your nephew who’s in yearbook club, and an entire Facebook group of business owners to look at a concept you’ve been sent. I totally understand why might seem like a good idea to get as much feedback as possible, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to ask someone who hasn’t seen the creative brief and has zero context on any other part of the project what they think. It could very quickly turn into a designer’s biggest nightmare:

Approval by committee.

*shrieks from the audience* Here’s the thing: everyone has an opinion. But yours is truly the one that matters here. The more people you get involved, the harder it will be to ever feel good about the design and sign off on it. So just trust your own judgement and don’t make things harder for yourself (and your designer) with an onslaught of opinions that really aren’t relevant—after all, only you know what is best for your business.


The next time you’re asked for your feedback, you’ll have all the tools you need to provide thorough, specific input. Always remember to trust your gut and trust that your designer can turn your feedback into a successful solution for your business.

Have you had any experiences with a designer that could have gone better? I’d love to hear about it and see if any of the above tips could have helped avoid the problems you faced!