Coastal Media Brand

Rejection hurts. It especially hurts when you spend tons of time and effort creating something that you knew deep down inside your client would love. Only, the response you get is that it’s boring, unattractive, or that they just plain hate it. 

So, what do you do? Do you tirelessly defend your work and hope to win the client over? Or do you submit to the criticism and let the client dictate every creative decision you make going forward?

You don’t need to go to either extreme. In this post, we’ll look at some things you can do after you’ve received negative feedback from a design client and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

What to Do If You Receive Negative Feedback from Your Client

All feedback is valuable in web design. Even if it’s not constructive, it can still be of use when it comes to things like process improvement and deciding which clients to work with.

Here are some tips to help you professionally handle it and simultaneously use it to improve the way you work:

1. Don’t Take It Personally

You are not your work. 

That said, it can be hard to separate yourself and your ego from your creations when it feels like someone is attacking you for it. Just as it might be hard for your client to separate themselves from their business and the designs that are going to represent it.

Take a step back and remind yourself that this is a subjective criticism from one client. It’s not a reflection of your capabilities as a designer (even if the client takes it to that level). 

This will help you approach this negative feedback and your client with a cooler head and greater patience.

2. Give It 24 Hours

If you receive negative feedback in real time, you won’t be able to wait to respond to it. However, in my experience, most clients deliver negative feedback after the fact. 

So let’s say you’ve received negative feedback via email from your client. 

“This shade of red isn’t the one we discussed. And why are the fonts so hard to read?”

“I’m not sure why I don’t like it, but I’ll know what I like when I see it.”

“My brother’s friend took a design course last year and told me this looks bad.”

Your instinct might be to respond right away. Unfortunately, you risk responding with something that comes off sounding defensive, unapologetic, and unsympathetic. 

So, here’s what you can do:

Write a quick response acknowledging that you received the =feedback. Let them know you’ll review it and get back to them within the next day. 

Then put it aside. Work on something else, go for a walk, do a workout, anything that will allow you to take your mind off of it. 

When you’re ready, move onto the next steps. 

3. Determine If It’s Bad or Negative Feedback

When reading over the feedback you’ve received, the first thing to do is determine if it’s negative feedback or bad feedback. 

Negative feedback is negative but constructive. For example: 

“I’m not happy with this first go-round. The images look too cartoonish for my life coaching business. I know I said I wanted an illustrated look, but this seems too childish and lighthearted.”

Bad feedback is negative and unhelpful. For example:

“I really don’t like it. It doesn’t capture my ‘sparkle’.”

While they sort of tell you why they don’t like it with bad feedback, the reasoning is vague or downright unclear. I actually had a client say this to me once. When I asked for clarification on what “sparkle” meant, they said they couldn’t describe it in words.

Why do we even need to distinguish between the two types? Well, it’ll help shape our approach. Because if a client can give us concrete evidence of what they don’t like, we can zero in on the specific issue.

However, if they can’t describe it, then we’re going to need to take a broader approach to figuring out what the problem is and getting a clear answer from them. If we try to use the same approaches with these two types of clients, we could end up very frustrated and with tons of time wasted.

4. Schedule a Real-time Video Call

Now that you know what type of negative feedback you’re dealing with, it’s time to hash it out. 

If the feedback is simple enough — e.g. “Can you change the button on the form to say ‘BOOK A DEMO’?” — a call isn’t needed. However, if the feedback is extensive or extreme, it warrants a real-time video call. 

Within 24 hours of receiving the negative feedback, send your client a message. 

First, say you’re sorry that they’re not happy with what they received. Briefly acknowledge the issue and sympathize with their situation. Then invite them to a call to discuss and come up with a game plan. 

Here are some things that may make the call go more smoothly: 

  • Record the call. You want to capture the client’s feedback in case they contradict it in the future. It’ll also be good to record the plan you both agree to.
  • Make sure it’s just one person from the client’s side attending. You don’t want a bunch of people piling on feedback that wasn’t initially included.
  • Share your screen when discussing the designs. Give your client the ability to take over if it’s easier for them to point out the issues they’re seeing. 
  • Have relevant documentation like the client intake form open in another browser. If the client contradicts what they asked for or wants something outside the scope, you can go over the form together. 

Put a time limit on the call as well. This will keep the feedback discussion more controlled and keep everyone on task. 

5. Gain Some Clarity

When addressing negative feedback, it’s important that you get your client to be as clear as possible about what they want vs. what they don’t want. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck playing mind reader.

No matter what the issue is, get the client to show you what it is they like. 

They don’t like the product page design because it feels too chaotic? Fine. Have them share a few examples of product pages that they really love the look and feel of.

If they’re displeased with the entire page or they’re having a hard time expressing what they don’t like, that’s okay. Have them take you through the mockup or prototype and point out what they like and why. Then have them demonstrate why there are certain parts of it that they don’t. 

Start simple. Get them to focus on basic styles and elements. That should help them come up with more constructive feedback once they realize what sort of input you’re looking for.

Another tactic I’ve seen used is the “Why?” game. Basically, if you have a client who insists they don’t like your design and want a redo, you ask them why (or what or how). And continue to ask them why until you get a clear response. For instance: 

“I just don’t like it.”

“Why?”

“It looks too conservative or something.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s not exciting.”

“Why is that?”

“Not sure. I guess the red photo filter looks cool, but everything looks so flat.”

“Is flat bad?”

“Maybe not flat. I just feel like nothing pops. You know how on some sites it looks like the images aren’t moving while the rest of the page is? Or buttons that change size when you hover over them? That sort of thing.”

“Show me.”

Your clients aren’t designers. So it can be hard for them to describe what it is they want or need without guidance from you. This type of exercise will help both of you get crystal clear on what needs to be done to fix the issue.

6. Push Back on Unhelpful or Irrelevant Feedback

Dealing with negative feedback doesn’t mean you have to give in to the client’s demands. While you ultimately want to make them happy, you shouldn’t implement bad, unhelpful, or irrelevant feedback. 

Imagine you’re working with a client who is nitpicky. But it’s clear that they’re complaining about small bits of the design just to complain about something. Either that or they’re not really sure what they want. 

If their feedback isn’t going to help move the project forward, don’t be afraid to say “no” or to table it for later. 

Explain to them the importance of the user experience and how the design you created was tailor-made for their target audience. For instance, something like the shape of a button probably won’t make or break their experience. So there’s little point wasting time on it. 

Plus, design is never going to be 100% perfect. We’ll always be able to go and find something worth tweaking — that’s why ongoing maintenance, updates, and testing are crucial.

If your client gets wrapped up in small or insignificant details, remind them about their bigger goals. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to get them to drop the feedback and move on.

7. Come Up with an Action Plan

Before you implement any changes, create a list of action items based on your client’s feedback and the resolutions you’ve discussed with them. 

While this list will help you keep track of what needs to be done, you should also share it with your client. This way, they’ll know exactly what’s being worked on and what to expect when you deliver the next round of revisions. 

This should reduce how much you back-and-forth you do with the client. It should also help reestablish any trust you may have lost. 

It’s unfortunate when a client doesn’t like what you’ve done and it’s only natural that they might experience some doubts. But by treating them as a collaborator whose opinion you trust and being transparent about what you’re doing next, you might be able to restore the positive relationship you had at the start.

8. Prevent Negative Feedback from Occurring Again

There’s something to be learned from every piece of negative feedback you receive. 

For example, if you’ve received similar feedback from a few clients, that should tell you that something needs to be reworked. It could be your design approach or perhaps something missing from your process. 

For example, we used to use Lorem Ipsum when creating our website mockups. A number of clients complained about the “Latin” on the pages and how they wanted real content on their sites.

At first, I tried explaining to clients ahead of time that we used placeholder content during the early design phases. I thought that setting the right expectations and preparing them for what they’d see would fix the problem. But it didn’t. So eventually we changed our process so that we either wrote the content or got it from the client first (which, really, was a better way to do it anyway).

Whether the negative feedback you’ve received is a one-off occurrence or it keeps coming up, take some time to think about it. Is there a way to reduce or prevent the criticism entirely?

For instance: 

  • Would it help to revamp your client onboarding process or the intake form? 
  • Should you deliver your designs in a different format — for instance, as an interactive prototype vs. a static file? 
  • Would you save time by giving clients a visual feedback tool like Marker.io or BugHerd?
  • Should you always schedule a meeting to review your work in real time instead of sending it and waiting for feedback? 

If clients aren’t tech-savvy or feel out of their depth when it comes to web design, it’s easy for them to feel overwhelmed and to lash out in order to gain a sense of control again. A lot of times all they need is a more confident hand and intuitive tools to guide them through the review process. 

Conclusion

Client feedback is a critical piece of the web design process. Even though you are the expert, the client needs to feel good about what you’ve created for them. And while some clients might be easygoing and love anything you do, that’s not always going to be the case.

Making room in your process to solicit feedback is important. But it’s just as important to know how to handle negative feedback when you encounter it. 

Keep calm, remain professional, and guide your client through the process. In doing so, you should be able to restore their confidence in your work and finish the project without any major hiccups along the way.

Coastal Media Brand

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