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How to streamline design client feedback cycles

Every designer dreads receiving feedback.

It’s natural — you’re only human, after all, and having someone pick apart your work feels about as vulnerable as stripping naked and having a panel rate your body from one to ten.

Add the fact that many clients are (often hilariously) bad at giving feedback, and it’s no wonder designers fear the review process.

Yet feedback is a necessary evil in design. Designers aren’t mind readers — it’s rare to nail a design your client is happy with on the first try. And since your clients aren’t creatives, they’re not always able to give clear, actionable instructions.

With time, you can learn not to take design feedback personally, but you can’t stop your clients from coming up with unhelpful gems such as “I don’t like it” and “make it pop.” Or can you?

In fact, it is possible to tame the feedback cycle dragon and consistently receive constructive, useable feedback from your clients. In this article, we’re going to show you how to streamline your design work review process in five easy steps.

Let’s dive in.

1. Understand the client’s needs

Before starting any design project, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can about your client’s brand message and goals to get a holistic view of their needs and the core purpose of the design project.

Having a poor understanding of the client and their needs is likely to lead to lengthy feedback processes as you try to reconcile your expectations with theirs. Lay the groundwork by getting to know your clients inside out. If you get this crucial first step right, it will help ensure streamlined feedback cycles throughout the design process.

Below are five ways to get an in-depth grasp of their needs.

  • 👉 Nail down their design preferences — familiarize yourself with the client’s branding guidelines. Get acquainted with their preferred design styles, color palettes, and typography. Ask them to share examples of designs they admire.
  • 👉 Get to know their customers — it’s important to get inside the minds of the target audience for your designs before you start working on them. Ask your client to share any customer feedback they might have, whether that’s customers profiles, reviews, testimonials, or any other form of feedback.
  • 👉 Become an expert on their strategy — study both their long and short-term goals to understand how your work fits into their overarching strategy.
  • 👉 Understand their experience with design feedback — how you manage the feedback cycle depends on the client’s level of experience. If they’ve never given design feedback before, you’ll need to give them a little more guidance. However, if they’re used to giving feedback or are designers themselves, you can take a more hands-off approach.
  • 👉 Establish the project goals — what is your client trying to achieve with this project? What stage of the sales funnel is it aimed at? Get familiar with their parameters for success so you’re all on the same page from the beginning.

You might want to consider providing a detailed questionnaire to compile the above information and ask your client to fill it in before starting the project. This will help manage expectations on both sides, minimize the number of rounds of feedback required, and limit scope creep.

2. Prepare for feedback

Start your project off on the right foot for preparing for feedback right from the start. Essentially, this means making sure everyone is on the same page about project deliverables and timelines. Agreeing on these details at the initial stage will help to set expectations and give you more control over the feedback process.

You can set clear expectations by determining:

  • 👉 Project scope
  • 👉 Project deliverables
  • 👉 A project timeline
  • 👉 A designated point of contact who can centralize feedback. Receiving feedback from multiple team members and stakeholders can cause confusion and hinder the design process
  • 👉 A maximum number of iterations — clients will use them wisely knowing they are limited
  • 👉 Deadlines for providing each round of feedback
  • 👉 Additional charges or penalties they will incur for not providing feedback within the required time frame.

All these elements provide clarity, which will reduce the risk of constant debate and endless iterations and rounds of revisions.

3. Build in three rounds of feedback

Don’t wait until the first prototype is ready before submitting your work for feedback. Instead, weave feedback into different stages of the project. This way, the client can identify any problems that would have otherwise gone unnoticed until project completion.

Aim for no more than three rounds of reviews. You can build in additional checkpoints as necessary, such as biweekly updates, but limiting your feedback loop to three main stages will save you a lot of headaches later on.

Round one: start with a design review presentation

A design review presentation is an important part of the initial review round. The presentation should explicitly state how the proposed solution addresses the design problem and provide a roadmap to get there. It’s an opportunity for the client to provide directional feedback that focuses on the approach and high-level strategy.

During the presentation, you will explain some initial ideas and solutions for the client to approve before moving forward. A good presentation sets the stage, connecting the client to the process you will follow to reach the final solution.

Understanding the logic behind your design choices will make it easier for the client to provide useful feedback. If they can do this from the outset, it will help streamline future review rounds.

Round two: deliver the final solutions

At the second feedback stage, you will present completed versions of all the deliverables to the client. This is the time for them to make adjustments, not revisit the original concept — unless they want to double their investment and start over with a new content brief.

This stage is the opportunity for stakeholders to comment on colors, fonts, layouts, and logos. It’s not the time for them to start questioning the whole vision or direction of the project.

Round three: revise the finer details

The final round of revisions should focus on making minor tweaks such as color adjustments or changes to the text, and checking for errors or inconsistencies. If you’ve executed the previous two stages successfully, there shouldn’t be any major reworking at this stage.

4. Leverage the right communication tools

Every designer knows what it’s like to receive long email chains of feedback from multiple stakeholders that make it impossible to prioritize or even make sense of their comments.

A successful feedback process depends on the ability to communicate expectations in a clear and concise manner that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Therefore, the tools you use to manage your client feedback cycles can make all the difference between controlling the process, or being completely overwhelmed by it.

Below is a list of communication and collaboration tools that can help streamline the feedback cycle.

  • 👉 Video conferencing apps, such as Zoom, are great for face-to-face communication, ensuring that feedback doesn’t become lost in translation. When communicating in real-time, it’s easier to gain clarification, remove ambiguity, and get a solid understanding of what the client wants.
  • 👉 Instant messaging tools, such as Slack, can make it easier to share regular or informal updates on project progress.
  • 👉 Proofing and visual feedback tools, like Filestage, Milanote, and BugHerd, add visual context and collect feedback from multiple stakeholders, speeding up the process.
  • 👉 Email automation tools, such as Mailchimp or ActiveCampaign, can send automated feedback reminders that save you time on following up with your clients.
  • 👉 Project management tools, such as Trello or Asana, where you can create workflows for each feedback cycle and keep track of iterations.
  • 👉 Online file management platforms, such as Playbook, where you can keep a visual record of your work and allow stakeholders to add their comments and view version histories.

5. Help clients understand the importance of review deadlines

Your clients can’t expect you to meet project deadlines if they don’t submit their feedback in a timely manner. If you follow the steps outlined above and involve all stakeholders during every round of revisions, then the risk of them missing review deadlines is minimal — but it can still happen.

To minimize the impact on the project timeline, make it clear at the beginning that you’ll incorporate feedback as long as it arrives by the agreed deadline, and that you won’t consider any comments received after that — the process will move forward with or without them.

You might also want to consider including late fees in your contract to make sure the client respects your time — after all, if the project is delayed due to late feedback, you’re the one who loses money.

Take control of your design feedback cycles

The secret to a successful feedback cycle is to agree on the rules and procedures right from the get-go. When everyone is on the same page, it builds trust between you and your client and makes the whole process run like a well-oiled machine.

While reviews may always be nerve-wracking, taking control of the design feedback process can save you a lot of extra hours and sleepless nights. When you do, you’ll discover it’s possible to consistently wrap up projects on time while also meeting client expectations.

To recap, here are the five steps to creating a streamlined client feedback cycle:

  1. 👉 Understand the client’s needs
  2. 👉 Prepare for feedback
  3. 👉 Build in three rounds of feedback
  4. 👉 Leverage the right communication tools
  5. 👉 Enforce penalties for missed review deadlines

If you’re a designer who wants to take your client feedback system to the next level, sign up now! Playbook's collaboration features allow you to easily share your work with clients and get feedback. Plus, you can say goodbye to multiple copies and versions, since the version history allows you to show clients how you’ve incorporated their comments into your work.