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Avoid unproductive revision cycles & get to the perfect design faster

If you’ve been designing for any length of time, I’m guessing you have experienced the downward revision spiral. In other words, revision cycles that make your creativity monkey want to run and hide. Nothing kills a designer’s mojo faster than a client nitpicking a design concept or getting too specific in their design feedback. When…

Avoid unproductive revision cycles & get to the perfect design faster. Grab your free copy of Client Feedback Scripts.

If you’ve been designing for any length of time, I’m guessing you have experienced the downward revision spiral. In other words, revision cycles that make your creativity monkey want to run and hide.

Nothing kills a designer’s mojo faster than a client nitpicking a design concept or getting too specific in their design feedback.

When we start capitulating to every request just to get to the next phase of the project, the passion for the project is definitely starting to wane. So how can we ask for feedback that brings us closer to the perfect design?

Are you a leader or a follower?

In a recent post, I talked about how to demonstrate confidence you might not feel. Your client wants to be led by you, and taking leadership starts sooner than you might think. Practically speaking, what does starting the project in a position of leadership really look like?

  • Holding firm to your pricing even when your client complains of a low budget or asks for a discount.
  • Sticking to your project schedule even if it means you can’t squeeze in that client who is in a hurry.
  • Requiring all clients to go through the same onboarding process.
  • Setting up expectations of how you work and communicate on your website (before they even contact you) and reiterating it throughout the onboarding process.

A well-thought out design process fosters trust in your client. Clients will be less inclined to micromanage if they know you can see the way forward to a great outcome.

How to keep projects out of the downward revision spiral

First, understand that no one wants to end up here. Almost every scope revision fail I’ve experienced as a designer can be chalked up to a lack of leadership on my part.

There’s something very personal tied up in presenting an idea to a client. So we tend to do it passively in an attempt to be disconnected in case of rejection. I get this.

Disconnecting keeps us from actively leading the client through this part of the process. It creates exactly the situation we had hoped to avoid. Some would say that design concepts need to be presented in person, others prefer to do it via email. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. It depends on the way you offer your services and the how you like to work.

You can ask for feedback from your client in such a way that it gets you both to the right solution faster. Instead of “tell me what you think” or “get back to me with your changes”, ask your client to focus on what they feel when they look at your presented concept. Ask them to tell you what they like and don’t like. This works for any design project, particularly in the styling and final concept phases.

TIP: Be very intentional in guiding the feedback conversation. What do you feel when you look at this? Fill in the blank, this feels too ____________. I want it to feel more ____________. What do you like? dislike? Is anything missing?

Grab my feedback scripts here.

Why is this so important? By asking your client to focus on how something feels, you’ll avoid the kind of feedback that forces you into a design corner. When a client starts to give instruction about specific elements – make this blue, use this font – they are trying to correct what they feel is missing (and rightly so). But in most cases, they lack the experience to understand the kind of changes that will move the design in the right direction.

While I believe the motive behind this is purely an attempt to be helpful, it’s actually not. It makes for a suffocating, limiting design experience.

As a designer, you feel compelled to try suggestions that you know won’t get you where you want to go. So when the project goes back out for review, it’s still not right… and so begins the cycle of try this… try that… you are now a follower in the process while your client throws spaghetti on the wall.

I am not encouraging you to take on an uncollaborative attitude or dismiss your client’s feedback. Collaboration and research should be happening throughout the entire project. I am encouraging you to lead your client knowing that this will method will create the best result.

Getting a project back on track

So what do you do if you are currently in this revision spiral? How do you get your project back on track?

Have a frank discussion with your client. Keep it simple, straightforward and pleasant. This is about a common goal. Remind them why they hired you and that you’ve got their back – encourage them to trust in the process and allow you the space to do what you do well. Most importantly – ask them to reframe their feedback by using the guidelines above.

If you are struggling with what to say and exactly how to say it, I’ve created some scripts that will help your projects stay on track OR get them back on track if they’ve derailed.

I would love for you to try this approach in getting feedback and come back and comment below. How did it work for you?
How to reduce revision cycles, keep design projects on track and reach the best solution for your clients as a freelance designer.

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.