How To Gather Useful Feedback From a Difficult Client or Manager


Round one of my T-shirt design for Macy’s kids department is on screen as I present the design to my creative director.


“I don’t like it.”


“That doesn’t do anything for me.”


Welp… ok.


As a designer, I’ve heard the gambit of design feedback. Some clients and creative directors are clear and precise – they know what they need changed and perhaps more importantly, why.


Designers hope to hear “I don’t like the red paired with that font, it makes me feel like we are selling Christmas,” this is by no means perfect feedback, but it gives insight into what’s not working and why it’s not working.


The only task after specific feedback, is to make the desired changes and hope the client did indeed want the changes they said they wanted.


The task of Gathering useful Feedback (read: pulling teeth) however, is more challenging. When the client or creative director does not specify their dislikes and are unable to elaborate when asked, “what specifically do you not like about it?”


There are several reasons a creative director or client is unable (or unwilling) to explain their specific dislikes about a design they feel “just doesn’t work.”


Some experience a subtle yet powerful emotion, or reaction of surprise and disappointment. This inhibits their ability to analyze the specific elements of the design responsible for the negative reaction. Others are afraid to be negative or harsh with their designer. They  prefer not to list and detail all the things “wrong” with the design. Still others feel that it is not worth their time explaining their dislike due to the design being what they consider “unsalvageable.”


For any one of these reasons, some clients and creative directors find it more simple to say, “I don’t like the whole thing” rather than analyze and vocalize their dislikes. This leaves the designer wondering where to go.


The first approach when taking non-specific feedback must be to ask, “Can you identify specifically what you don’t like about it?” Consider this the first line of attack. If they are unable to do so, don’t panic. At this point it is easy for the designer to become frustrated, he/she must stay focused and move to tactic number two.


The designer must begin cycling through each design element and ask for the client’s feeling. It’s important to phrase questions correctly. Try to avoid “like” and “love.” If the design involves color, start with colors, as more often than not, colors are responsible for the feeling of the design being wrong. Ask, “What do you think when you see this red?” then ask a similar question regarding the font, then the lines, then the shapes then the placements then the sizing. Continue this process until you hear adequate feedback.


Depending on the art director’s level of discontent with the design and inability to articulate what they don’t like, the point at which they give you workable information will come sooner or later.


Sometimes the designer will receive specific answers when going through the design elements (yeah that green is too put-put golf), sometimes the designer will be met with, “It’s ugly.” But at some point, with the correct prodding, the client will open up and rant something to the effect of, “I don’t know. I just don’t like it, the colors are off. Everything seems wrong. I mean..” now what they say after that is pivotal, and usually this means they are about to get specific, or at least give you workable information.


“I mean… the lines are all over the place, that’s the most kid like red I’ve seen and the woman in that picture is one hundred years old!”


Designers can feel a special kind of defeat after situations of that sort. Particularly after they worked on the design for hours and chose that shade of red very specifically. Don’t feel defeated or try to explain why you chose what you did. Instead, consider it a win once you prod the client or creative director into “spilling the beans.” You need the information they have and however they get it to you is of little consequence as long as the next design you show moves in the “right” direction.




  1. Ask “Is there something specific you don’t like?”
  2. Go through each element and ask how they feel about it or what it makes them think of (don’t say, “do you like this?”
  3. Try to get them to “spill the beans” no matter if they seem worked up.
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