Effective design, feedback and working relationships

Learnings for building positive interactions with your client and design team.

It’s why you’re here. The specialist. The professional. The much needed fresh perspective. The creative energy your client needs to overcome the challenge that lays before them. After all, they aren’t designers, trained in colour theory with an in-depth understanding of user personas and the Bauhaus movement. But they are professionals in their own right and they have a view to share.

It can be easy for people to get lost in the soft, squishy world of the designer when colour palettes, fonts and visual treatments are being discussed. For a designer that’s pumped their heart and soul into an idea that gets shot down, it can be a bitter pill to swallow. Making sure conversations are always happening from the perspective of the end user will support your design rationale. The framing technique “it works because…” rather than “I like this because…” is a simple way to remove personal views and move forward based on project needs and goals. On top of this — and often the part that get’s forgotten — is learning to put yourself in your client’s shoes to realise their motivations and personal challenges beyond the design work that can directly or indirectly affect the feedback. Anything from opinions of more senior management, to past experiences or performance goals can play a part. Taking time to appreciate this will help you remain positive for the greater good of the work and show a higher level of understanding to your client.

So how can we improve communication with ‘us creative types’ to build stronger relationships with clients and fellow designers?

In my experience, setting out a framework for the team can be a strong, positive foundation. Aligning the design team and client on simple criteria means less frustration and more productivity. Below I’ve adapted a set of principles I created for a recent project that covers visual, functional and emotional aspects to consider when creating and reviewing designs.

The purpose is twofold; to establish the level of rigour involved in great design, and to be open and transparent with clients to the challenges faced by the design team.

The design should be familiar and create the best possible experience to address user needs and the primary user journey. Ask yourself, does the user care?

The interface should be clear, direct and coherent. Does each element have a particular role?

The design should portray confidence and be considered in it’s approach. Strip away the unnecessary.

The visual language should be aligned with the values, positioning and drivers of the project. How does the design make you / the user feel?

Rules require a structured system but should also be flexible and open to building a better onward experience. Are there future needs or adaptations that could be considered?

Design elements should support and deliver the content in the best possible way. Don’t let the design restrict the content.

Language is important and should guide the user on their journey. Buttons should feel like buttons. Are the signposts clear?

Aim high with the design. Don’t always settle for an expected or out-of-the-box solution — push to be progressive and entertaining where possible.

Consistency of scale and proportion throughout the design will make for a better experience and support content creators and developers. In partnership with pushing the design to be progressive, a balance should be found that manages time vs. effort for overall efficiency.

There’s no substitute for good old fashioned groundwork in building rapport and taking the time to really know your stuff.

Created to help guide design and feedback, this framework is far from unique or ‘complete’ — it will and should evolve over time. For me it’s proven useful in starting conversations and building stronger relationships within teams — and that really is the point here. Often all you need is a conversation starter. A nudge to guide you in a particular direction.

For those leading design teams give it a try and by all means add or adapt principles to suit your project. If you find additional ways that work well for you feel free to share.

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Creative Director / Designing products with purpose and brands with bold futures @frogdesign