It’s no secret: Feedback can be one of the most delicate areas of your relationship with a client. It introduces ego, personality, and opinion into the web design process. However, when managed well, this phase can result in constructive criticism that keeps a project moving forward, and a satisfied client who will recommend your services to others and want to work together in the future.
A large part of realizing this idea is teaching your clients early on how to give feedback on a website’s design, and clearly communicating your own expectations and deadlines from the start. As a non-designer, your client will need some guidance about what you mean when you say ‘revision’ - and a little of your empathy as they give you control over this crucial part of their business.
Below are seven of our top strategies for ensuring the client feedback process goes smoothly.
01. Set clear expectations by outlining the web design process
In your initial meeting with a client, walk them through your standard web design process so they know what to expect at every stage. While this kind of work is second nature for you, many of your clients may have never been part of a project like this before. Client anxiety can crop up when they feel they’re paying for a service that’s shrouded in mystery. That’s why orienting them along the expected timeline not only reassures the client, it also establishes your authority and professionalism.
This conversation is the time to review when revisions happen and how you classify them in your contract:
Indicate when the client’s input will be needed, and how you prefer to receive it (e.g. via text, email, phone, or video call).
Lay out the difference between a major and a minor revision, and the impact those alterations could have on their bill. Here’s what we mean by that: If you are charging by the hour, and your client requests a total structural rearrangement after seeing the mockups, they should be aware from the outset that a) this is classified as a major revision, b) it implies many extra work hours for you, and c) your fee will subsequently be higher than projected. This is a very different scenario than an image swap, which can be considered a minor revision. Give examples of these two types of revisions, and explain any implications they might have within your pricing model, so the client enters the project fully aware.
Mention how many feedback rounds you grant during the process. Putting a cap on this number is generally in the best interest of both you and your client. It keeps the project from becoming grounded in an iteration loop and lets you advance the website towards its final version. One pro tip is reminding your client at each revision how many feedback opportunities they have left. That way, they’re not caught by surprise when the final design is delivered and they suddenly have one more chance left for commenting. Again, the more upfront and explicit communication, the better.
Formalize this whole discussion within the signed contract. This document will become a central reference point for you and your client. Most of the time, ‘contract’ is invoked with a negative connotation, brought into play only when one party is in trouble.
You have the power to change that dynamic.
Reference it early on in connection with positive or neutral moments. Just take a look at this example:
“Just sending a quick update that we’re moving into the wireframes stage. Working on some ideas I’m really excited about - looking forward to showing you in another week like we talked about in the contract!”
This kind of language normalizes the contract within your client communication. If a disagreement should arise, the idea is that bringing up ‘The Contract’ will be more of a casual standard at that point, rather than a cause for alarm.
Our philosophy is that it’s always worth it to address common client pitfalls before they happen. Much better than jumping into crisis management mode down the line.
02. Teach your client what a successful revision process looks like
Most likely, you and your client are coming from different professional worlds. So when you request feedback, they might not necessarily know what you’re expecting, from format to substance.
Take a little time at the beginning of your relationship (a perfect time is when you're reviewing the revision policies in your contract!), to offer some educational instructions.
First, detail the steps in a conventional revision process:
You send the design to the client to be reviewed.
The client consults with any relevant stakeholders, and compiles all feedback to be shared with the designer. These comments should be shared in one message so nothing gets lost.
You now have the chance to ask some clarifying questions. Once you feel confident you’ve understood, send a list of action items to confirm you’re aligned.
Finally, you submit the revised version for your client to see, before moving on to the next stage.
Of course, your revision process might look slightly differently. The most important principle here is that you’ve found a workflow you like and that your client is aware of it.
Second, offer some guidelines for how your clients can give actionable feedback on your website design:
Be specific. Focus on articulating the problem or challenge what you see. Why it’s important: This encourages the client to move beyond an initial reaction founded in personal taste. Instead, it asks them to think critically about what parts of the design are troubling them, giving you a basis for further conversation and change.
Critique from the point of view of your target audience or users. Why it’s important: The exercise of stepping into their audience’s shoes will similarly help your client move beyond the subjective nature of their own style preferences, and instead refocus on the function they are hoping their website will serve.
Some web designers even find it helpful to consolidate this list into a document to send to their clients.
03. Confidently present your design and the choices you’ve made
At each scheduled check-in, prepare a short run-through of what you’ve accomplished until that point, and the ‘why’ behind each of your decisions. Again, this comes back to the idea of using communication to bridge the two professional backgrounds you and your client are coming from.
For example, they might not intuitively grasp why you opted for a particular hierarchy in the sitemap or placed the CTA where it is in the mockup just from glancing at your design. However, explaining your rationale should help bring them on board. This can only strengthen the trust they have in you and reduce the chance they lash out via unfavorable feedback because they feel excluded from the process.
We recommend orienting this explanation around the website goals you and your client identified from the very beginning. Demonstrate how each design decision you’ve made supports their business strategy and the desired function of their new website. This is a language they most definitely speak, making the whole conversation a whole lot smoother.
04. Model the feedback you want to receive
Even if you’ve shown your client the ropes on how to give feedback, it might still take them a little time to get it right. You can help them out by relying on these techniques for extracting the comments you need to keep moving forward:
Ask specific questions. After a while spent in the industry, you’ll probably notice a lot of similarities between the kinds of questions you introduce at each stage of the process. If so, write them up into a list you can refer back to, making your web design process that much more efficient.
Swap vague statements for actionable steps. If a client shares that they ‘don’t like the layout,’ ask for more clarity.
Redirect the conversation to be about the users. Make repeated references to the client’s web visitors. ‘How do you imagine your target demographic will respond to this video on the homepage?’ ‘Do you see this color scheme resonating with your average user persona?’ Follow up on highly personal comments to bring the web visitors and their preferences back into the picture.
Ask ‘Why?’ Use this question word to dig further into suggestions for your own understanding. It can also be a tool for moving subjective feedback (‘I don’t like this format’) into something you can work with (‘The menu display feels crowded’).
Each of these tools are also available when you need to reroute particularly difficult criticism, and keep a project on track. For example, if you receive a comment like this one:
“I’m really disappointed in the work you showed me. There’s nothing to work with in here… The layout is all screwed up and just not a nice website overall.”
No matter how many times you repeat to yourself that it’s not personal, this kind of criticism pretty much always stings. It’s best met first and foremost with a deep breath, followed by advice (and maybe some commiseration, too) from fellow professionals over platforms like the Wix Partner Forum.
As you craft your response, a great redirect technique is to take as many purely technical points as you can from the client’s feedback, and center those within the discussion.
“Thank you for the feedback. I’m hearing that you are not satisfied with the layout and the aesthetic appearance of the website. I would be curious to hear more about the particular elements that feel off to you. Did you find yourself reacting most strongly to the color choices, placement of elements, etc.? Knowing this information will help me better understand your feedback and implement changes accordingly.”
Another strategy is to conclude your response by re-focusing the spotlight on the user, in an effort to filter out for the subjectivity of your client’s personal preferences. Consider how the above message sounds with the addition of this line of questioning:
“Thank you for the feedback. I’m hearing that you are not satisfied with the layout and the aesthetic appearance of the website. I would be curious to hear more about the particular elements that feel off to you (e.g. color choices, menu orientation, layout of the home page, etc.) How do you feel your average web visitor might perceive them?
Knowing this information will help me better understand your feedback and implement changes accordingly to make sure we get your website’s performing well with your audience and achieving [insert identified goal here]!”
You will hopefully notice the quality and specificity of the feedback in order to improve it in this next round. And, even if they might not realize it at the time, your client will benefit a lot from being asked to rephrase their words. You’re ultimately helping them take function into account, alongside form, when evaluating a web design. At the end of the day, that’s the quality that will help meet their KPIs (key performance indicators).
05. Treat the client like one of the team
This mentality applies at every point. Communicating your client’s value to the project actually happens most in those people-to-people interactions: the conversations, body language, and tone of voice.
There are specific actions you can take to reinforce this feeling, though. Frequently bringing the client into your thinking and your process is key to a positive working relationship. Often times, when your client is a business owner and used to managing all aspects of their business, they can experience hiring a web designer as a loss of control. Keeping them in the loop at every stage mitigates that feeling.
Explaining your design choices is just one instance of teammate behavior. Another is how you approach revisions: At each round, take careful notes and follow up the meeting by sending your documentation to the client. Besides being a great opportunity to confirm you’re on the same page, it includes the client further in your process and shows you’re actively listening to their opinions.
Being part of the same team is not just in name only. The client is the expert of their own business, meaning they hold valuable insights that can only sharpen the work you do together. At the end of the day, meeting your website goals is dependent on successful collaboration.
06. Own your expertise
We’re all familiar with the phrase: “The customer is always right.”
There’s a reason you were hired for this project, though. The experience and trained eye for quality web design that you bring to the table is incredibly valuable to your client.
In fact, they generally appreciate when you share your professional opinion. After all, that’s what they’re paying you for.
Of course, it might take your client a little bit of time to grow accustomed to not always being in the right, yet we find those moments are actually better dealt with by accessing our empathy. It can be a disconcerting feeling to go from being the decision maker in the room to suddenly accepting directions from an outsider.
Keep your client from that reaction by backing up your suggestions with careful industry research and patiently explaining your thought process. You will establish authority in their eyes and lay the groundwork for an excellent business collaboration.
07. Know when to end a project
Using the approaches mentioned above, you’ll find yourself being able to transform many difficult client conversations and continue on with a positive working relationship. However, there are those rare times when the collaboration just isn’t going to work.
Many times this situation can be prevented by practicing the tips outlined in this article. Yet, there are clients who are just hard to work with, plain and simple.
So if you are finding it impossible to work together in a productive manner - even after a good faith effort on your part to try and address whatever tension’s been cropping up in your communication - then it might be time to end the project. Politely, yet firmly, notify the client of your decision.
While you can cite whatever clause you’ve included in your contract to protect yourself at moments just like this one, there’s no need to engage in any prolonged justification or analysis of your decision.
What strategies have you found for managing client feedback? Tell us your pro tips in the comments.