Much of the web design process depends on feedback. We learn about our client’s needs, then design a website with them and their audience in mind. For their part, clients are pretty good at telling us if we’ve hit the mark (or not). Ideally, this feedback loop will help to improve the final product.
However, feedback is a two-way street. Clients bring ideas to the table as well. And while it’s tempting to simply do as they ask, that’s not necessarily going to produce the best outcome.
As web designers, we have insight and expertise that can prove invaluable to our clients. That’s why it’s important to share our thoughts on their ideas – good or not-so-much.
The challenge is doing so without leading to hurt feelings or being counterproductive. It’s a delicate subject, but one that we can successfully navigate.
With that, here’s how to effectively critique a client’s ideas without offending them.
Web Designers Understand Feedback Better than Most
Working with clients means that you’ll receive a lot of feedback. It ranges from the ultra-picky (“Can you make it ‘pop’ more?”), to those with very little to say (“Looks good!”).
The critiques can be vague and aren’t always productive. Sometimes they can seem downright mean. Yet, they do provide us with some valuable lessons.
These are experiences we can look back on when communicating our advice and opinions. They provide us with a foundation for speaking both kindly and effectively. In other words: we know what kind of feedback works. Therefore, we are uniquely positioned to offer it.
Thus, the first lesson of critiquing a client’s idea is to think back on your experience. Consider how various approaches made you feel. This will help to put your client’s best interests at the forefront.
Explain the Pros and Cons
What clients need most is an honest assessment. That’s why speaking up can be beneficial to a project. After all, even good ideas can have unintended consequences.
As such, it’s worth taking some time to lay out the potential pros and cons of a request. During an in-person or video chat, you may not be able to accomplish this immediately. In that case, it’s OK to do a little research before reporting your findings.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose a client wants to use a modal window on the home page to inform visitors of a new promotion. You might respond with the good, bad, and ugly of utilizing such features:
Modal windows do grab a user’s attention;
They might also serve as an obstacle, particularly on mobile devices;
Adding this same information to a hero area could produce more conversions;
Of course, you’ll want to have data to back up your positions. But the goal is to encourage clients to think about the full impact of their idea. With that, they can make an informed decision.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily agree with their decision. But at the very least, you helped to facilitate a discussion on the matter.
Use Reassuring Language
Each of us has a unique personality. And what offends one person may be easily laughed off by another. But feedback is still a sensitive subject. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to choose your words carefully.
There are some obvious words and phrases to avoid – we won’t list them here. But it’s about more than just specific words. Tone and context also matter a great deal.
Any attempt at critique should be kept positive and reassuring. That doesn’t mean you have to call a bad idea “good.” It’s more about acknowledging good intentions than pointing out any troubling aspects.
In practice, you might replace: “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
With: “I can see the benefits. However, my concern is _____.”
This approach is more likely to help stakeholders put their egos aside and participate in a productive conversation. It can also build trust and strengthen your working relationship with clients.
Feedback Is Welcome
Building a website isn’t like ordering items off of a fast-food menu. It’s a collaborative process. It works best when both clients and designers can openly exchange ideas.
There may be a few clients out there who want things done their way and without discussion. But for the most part, expert guidance is appreciated – even if a client doesn’t know how to ask for it.
In general, it pays to be proactive. When a client has an idea (good or otherwise), try to engage in a conversation. Use it as an opportunity to explain the pros and cons and provide them with the information they need to know.
It’s not about winning an argument, per se. Realistically, it’s a way to help a project achieve the best possible outcome. That’s something everyone can get on board with.