The art of gathering useful feedback

Chris Esh

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@headwayio?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Headway</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/process?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>
Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Getting effective feedback is the key to a successful project. Whether it’s a client, boss, employees, etc. a good feedback process makes a project stronger. When done poorly, however, it can unravel into a never-ending nightmare.

A solid feedback process is more than just sending a draft and saying “Let me know if you have changes.” It’s important to ask for feedback at multiple points throughout the process, while the work is clearly underway but not yet polished.

If you spend too much time gathering input before starting work, it can be too abstract for many clients so they can’t provide much useful input. Other types of people, lacking a clear item to focus on, will jump way ahead in the process and start dictating where the project should go, way before we have the groundwork laid.

On the other hand, if you wait until the project is almost finished to solicit feedback, people are often too intimidated. They don’t want to hurt your feelings so they downplay their own opinions because the project looks too close to finalized. Or they get way too “in the weeds” and spend all their time on nitpicky details, at the expense of the big-picture, important goals.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned about feedback in my web design process:

  1. Provide opportunities for feedback at each formative step of the process. Here are the phases of my web design projects, each of which is an opportunity for client feedback and requires sign-off before proceeding.
  2. Communicate to your client when these opportunities will take place and what each phase will focus on. At each phase, provide guidance on what’s most important to focus on now vs. what’s still to come.
  3. Set a deadline for feedback, usually no more than a week. If they’ve had opportunities to provide feedback throughout, then no single step should be a huge lift. If you give people too much time, they’ll often put it off.
  4. Remind the client to include all relevant decision-makers at each phase. This is key! The last thing you want is to facilitate an elaborate feedback process only to discover that an important stakeholder (e.g. the board of directors) wasn’t involved until the final round, where they blow the whole thing up.
  5. Require the client to compile all revision requests from all stakeholders into a single document. This is what I consider one round of feedback, and my typical projects include two rounds. If you let everybody individually email you feedback, some of that feedback will likely contradict other stakeholders’ opinions. More importantly it will never end. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.
  6. No matter how proud you are of your work, try to maintain some healthy separation from it. Don’t take negative feedback personally and don’t get defensive. Client input is an essential part of the project—it’s not about being right or wrong.
  7. Client feedback should be a dialogue. While it might be easier to just do whatever the client asks (“Make our logo bigger!” – every other client), that’s kind of a cop-out. Sometimes they ask for things that go against best practices or might undermine the quality of the project. In those cases, it’s helpful to ask why they want that particular change, then focus on the larger goal they’re trying to accomplish rather than the specific detail. Other times it’s helpful to explain from your perspective why that change wouldn’t be a good idea. If they still want me to make the change after being fully informed of the tradeoffs then I will, as it’s ultimately their project. What matters to me is that they make an informed choice.
  8. Budget sufficient time for feedback. I used to assume that completing the draft meant the project was basically done, which made me frustrated and impatient when clients sent lots of revision requests. I’ve since learned to reserve a decent amount of the timeline and budget for the draft site revisions. Now it’s just a predictable part of the project, so I’m far more patient and generous, which is a much better note to end a project on.

Over the years, I’ve learned to (mostly) enjoy the client feedback process. When done effectively, projects usually get better because of it.

While I bring expertise in design and marketing, the client brings expertise about their business, industry, and target audience. The ideal feedback process allows us both to optimally contribute the specific knowledge that we bring to the project, which creates something far better than any of us could have done separately.

IceCreamDoodle

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