by Susan T. Evans

Colleges, universities, libraries, and museums are places of collaboration and partnership. Everyone gets a voice. Everyone is consulted. The feedback loop is lively. We ask for it, they provide it.

“I think we’re almost there with the homepage design. But there’s something missing; it just doesn’t pop.”

“I know I should have said something earlier, but I’m really not happy with the look and feel of the design.”

“This page is too long and overwhelming. I really think it needs to be more intuitive.”

“Our president doesn’t like green.”

Web designers know clients—whether internal or external—are at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the design process. Our clients have a core challenge to solve or a set of goals to achieve. They are relying on their website and they have a right to participate in design choices and decisions. But experience tells us getting useful feedback about web designs from individuals and committees is sometimes difficult. Luckily, advice for improving this aspect of our work with clients is part of the upcoming edUi conference program. Several conference sessions center around design feedback!

Why is getting useful feedback so difficult? What are the root issues? Why do clients and designers become frustrated as they consider options and try to arrive at a final design? Sometimes, the design by committee approach is the culprit. In my view, useful feedback is also hindered by poor communication, built-in complexity, and frustrations about the time needed for consultation.

Poor Communication

When we talk about web design, we often slip into language our clients aren’t familiar with. We talk about pixels, resolutions, and sans-serif fonts. We reference breadcrumbs, conversions, and link farms. While many of our clients probably figure out what we mean while listening to us, unfamiliar vocabulary is distracting and sometimes confusing as people try to follow along and keep up with a design presentation. At the end of a discussion filled with concepts they aren’t familiar with, clients don’t know what to ask and sometimes can’t express their concerns.

Built-In Complexity

Many individuals asked to review designs and offer feedback just aren’t as informed as we are. Even some of the basics about websites are unknown to them. Their more limited knowledge makes it difficult for them to imagine the possibilities. This sometimes leads to creating mock up upon mock up to help them see the choices rather than visualize them.

Frustrations about the Time Needed for Consultation

The feedback loop always adds time. Getting the right people in the room together, consulting with the individuals who couldn’t attend the meeting, and waiting for decisions adds days and weeks to the process. Often, we don’t build the feedback time into our project plans. So at the same moment clients are getting their heads around how to respond, designers and others on the project team are seeing days on the calendar zip by too quickly. The stakes are high for clients during the design process and, understandably, they don’t want to be rushed. There is often a feeling that this is their one shot to “get it right,” and time and tweaks—and more time—are what’s needed to get there.

Get some advice at edUi

Can we get to a more useful feedback phase during the web design process? These edUi conference sessions are meant to do just that:

If I were presenting on this topic at edUi, I’d talk about client relationships as the closest thing we’ve got to a secret weapon during the feedback stage:

  • Establishing credibility is huge. Make sure you are clear that your design recommendations and choices are informed by current patterns and best practices. Talk about successes with other clients and projects.
  • Demonstrate that you’re listening. Make sure you reference your clients’ goals and challenges as you walk through a design. Talk about how your design supports their success.
  • Make it less of a presentation and more of a conversation. Help them understand. Use plain language to explain why you made the design choices you did.

About the Author

Susan T. Evans

Susan T. Evans

Susan T. Evans is the senior director for strategy at mStoner, a marketing and communications consulting firm based in Chicago. Before mStoner, she directed communication and digital strategy at the College of William & Mary.