There are few things more likely to spoil a learning designer’s day than getting poor feedback from their client. To be clear, I don’t mean bad feedback (the kind that says your design is terrible), but poor quality feedback. This type of feedback is usually unhelpful, can slow down the design process and sometimes derail it completely.
Often, it isn’t just the lack of quality that makes the feedback unhelpful, it’s the sheer quantity of it. We’ve all been there – the email says “we’ve added a few suggestions and comments” but the attached design document is barely recognisable, with so many comments and tracked changes that it’s nearly twice it’s original length.
When I started out, quite a few of the designs I worked on came back that way. Enough that it quickly became the norm. In fact it became so normal that it was quite jarring when I recently realised that it hadn’t happened for a long time.
Well… I could say that I’ve become so good at it that I always get it right first time (but that wouldn’t be true). Over the years I have developed as a learning designer, but it isn’t necessarily the obvious skills that have improved the quality and reduced the quantity of the feedback.
Here are 6 things that I do with each project that I think have helped.
1. Agree the process and expectations
The most important thing is to agree the process. You need to establish how designs will be submitted, what feedback is required and in what format it should be provided.
Sometimes the client will have established processes that you will need to adopt. In other cases they may have no experience at all and will look to you to provide structure.
It’s amazing how many people don’t have this conversation with their clients and just assume that they will know what is expected of them.
2. Choose a format that works for the client
It’s important to note that the previous step said you should agree the process. Many suppliers will have their own preferences for processes and formats. This may be because they are used to working a particular way or it may be because the tools that they use force them to format things a certain way. In either case, choosing something that works for you and not the client is a recipe for long term pain.
Sometimes I will provide designs almost entirely in text. This can work well with clients who have some experience and therefore the context to understand what they are reading.
In other cases, particularly with less experienced clients, the design may be much more graphical and include mockups of how content will be displayed.
3. Where necessary, use low fidelity mockups
If you are going to create mockups, keep them simple. I always do simple wireframes and often use fonts that imitate handwriting. Occasionally I will use photos or graphics, but more often will use placeholders that have a label describing what the content of the image will be.
The reason for doing this is to keep the focus on the content, not the visual design. Clients can be very easily distracted by colours, fonts and images that don’t fit with their brand guidelines. It’s important that those things are right, but this isn’t the place to be worrying about them.
4. Proofread it and then proofread it again
A simple point, but if your text is full of spelling and grammar mistakes it is likely to distract the reviewer from what they should be doing.
5. If needed, add guidance with each iteration of the design
Don’t be shy about directing the client. Different stages of the design process may need different levels of review and different types of feedback. If you want the client to review specific changes, sections, words etc. – let them know.
6. Accept what you don’t know
In most cases, your role is to be the learning expert and you may have little or no knowledge of the subject matter. Keep that in mind and ask as many questions as you need to.
Similarly, you may not have much experience of the culture of the organisation and you may need to check if certain things are appropriate.
Early on, I used to think that every design had to be complete and polished. Now I am much more comfortable with including elements that I will flag as being incomplete or needing feedback (particularly in early drafts).
Bonus tip – Design the right thing
This might sound obvious, but all of your efforts will be wasted if you haven’t clearly defined the need before you begin. I usually tell clients that in a typical blended learning project the greater part of the time and effort goes into the design – and a significant part of that is clarifying what it is we’re setting out to achieve.
None of this is about stopping or discouraging feedback. It’s intended to make sure that the client spends their time reviewing the right things and that the feedback we receive is as useful as it can be.