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What do you mean you don’t like it?

Working with negative feedback, working with clients.

The project design work I've been involved in over the past few years has usually revolved around a rhythm:

  1. Client describes a problem (the brief)

  2. Designer produces a proposal (the design)

  3. Client provides their thoughts (feedback)

  4. Designer produces further work.

And so on... When things go smoothly, the repetition of the design/feedback function like a skateboarder gaining height on a halfpipe, each swing gains momentum and the skater finishes off by throwing a 900, the crowd goes wild and the skateboarder wins the comp (the sign-off).

But in reality, things rarely go that smoothly, and more often that not, there will be points of disagreement. It’s worth mentioning that there are more than a few designers that will broadly declare, mouse in hand, “that’s the way I work and I’m not willing to compromise”. Very well, but from my experience, that’s not how the industry functions, and more importantly, not a useful way to move things forward.

Negative feedback can be hard to take, but the reasons why are not always obvious. It’s not usually the case that they didn’t like what you did, but rather that you feel they are moving the project in a direction that you don’t feel to be positive. Most designers that I have encountered—and certainly the ones I work with—care deeply about what they do. Design is a practice that takes time and dedication to do well, much study is self directed and many mistakes will be made in the process of learning. But also - more so now than ever, design is a universal language that [almost] everyone has an opinion on. Everyone that uses a computer is, to some degree, a UX expert, especially if they’ve read a few Medium articles.

How do you move things forward?

What are the problems you are trying to solve? A fundamental job of a designer is to understand the scope of the project, what needs to be communicated, what needs to be in focus, and what is important to the client (these aren't always the same thing). The most effective way I've found to break a deadlock is to simply talk to a client, remind them that we are both trying to solve the same problem, and to encourage them to share ownership of the challenges involved with the project.

Sometimes there simply won’t be agreement. A criticism I’ve had towards clients in the past is that they focus on the small details and don’t consider the bigger picture. What if my obsession with ‘that thing’ that I don’t like is in fact a small detail in the context of the wider project. It's quite natural that when a project design is signed off, you won't feel 100% positive about the direction things have taken.

How can this be overcome? Put the energy somewhere else. Working with digital projects means that there is a huge number of variables at play, all of which underpin and define the quality of the final product. I recently worked on a project with a typeface I really(seriously) didn’t think was a good choice, so I decided that this project would be the most performant project I had ever built.

It may seem like a small thing, but these projects take a lot of our time and energy, and are much easier to work with if that energy is positive.

Does this seem like ducking out? Remember, it’s not a fight, or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Ian Jones

Ian Jones is a designer and developer based in the UK. Currently working as a freelancer, he also dedicates time to independent and personal projects, as well as mentoring and teaching.