You’re working hard on your business. You’re busy dreaming up your newest program; the blockbuster one. The one that is going to sell out in the first day, launch to huge acclaim, and cement your reputation as a pioneer in your industry.

PING. Fresh to your inbox are your new web design mockups. This is your first look at how your business will splash on to the world stage. This is going to be a moment to highlight in your memoirs, to recount in your first Oprah interview.

Your heart is beating out your eyeballs as you skip over the message your designer wrote and go straight to the attached JPGs.

Except… what fresh hell is this? No! This is not the shining example of business badassery you were seeing in your head. This is… terrible. Oh god. Did you pick the wrong person? How did she not understand? Maybe you’re not the business god you thought you were but simply a dolt who’s been snowed by an untalented hack?

Damn. She seemed really nice too. You don’t want to hurt her feelings but… what should you do?

It’s simple. You need to tell her you hate it. Here’s why.

She’s a professional.

Professional designers understand the difference between their own art and commercial work for clients. My number one piece of advice to beginner designers is to stop being precious about their work. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do a good job, it just means they shouldn’t attach their worth to their designs.

Professionals take pride in their work and want you to be happy with the final product. The projects we work on are not only meant to make our clients deleriously happy, but to serve as samples in our portfolios and calling cards to other potential clients. Most of us find clients via word-of-mouth and we want to ensure you are saying good things when the project’s done.

This doesn’t mean we will cave to every suggestion a client has. Sometimes, the client isn’t quite right and it’s our job to steer. But a good designer will be able to back up the design decisions she’s made and explain without becoming defensive.

She’s not a mind-reader.

Designers have lots of skills but mind-reading isn’t one. Most experienced designers get pretty good at reading between the lines of what a client is saying but it is SO MUCH BETTER to have straight-forward communication.

This doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk. You don’t have to get hysterical and send her an all caps email, “I HATE IT YOU SUCK WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” But you need to be clear about what you do and don’t like.

Fix the communication breakdown.

I promise that your designer wants you to be thrilled, so if she isn’t getting the right idea, consider that it may be a communication issue. Hopefully, she had you fill out some form of creative brief so you can tell her the sorts of things you like and dislike upfront. When you are telling her what you do and don’t like about the designs, make sure you refer back to the brief.

If for some reason you are working without one, help her out by sending links to sites you like, photos with colour palettes that suit you and images that have the feel you’re hoping for. Before you get your back up and think, “But that’s her job!” remember that great design is a partnership, and this is the client’s part of the work.

How do you say it?

Like most difficult conversations, it’s best to stay objective, make the issues about the work, and see if you can add some positives in with the negatives. For example:

Dear Designer,

Thank you for sending over the designs. I really like the colour palette.

I think we’ve missed the mark on what I’m hoping for my site. We talked about it feeling [whatever you discussed]. Here are some sites that have the feel I like:

[insert links with specifics about what you like]

I feel that these designs are a little too [wrong feeling] and I’d like to see more of [right feeling].

Maybe we should have a chat to regroup. I am available on [date/time].

Sincerely,

Badass Businessowner

Why this works.

First of all, it addresses the fact that you got the designs and makes it clear they aren’t right. The designer isn’t needing to sit around chewing her fingers and wondering if you received the email, if you loved it or hated it, and anxiously eyeballing the schedule to guess possible impacts.

It stays professional. You are focused on the work, not whether the designer is good or bad and/or has personally offended your sensibilities. It also gives something positive, and even if it’s tiny, it means your designer can check that small part off her mental list of design items to create.

You give concrete examples of what you like. This is SO important. It allows the designer to review and look for commonalities and differences. It also allows her to create a framework for the upcoming discussion. In addition, you clearly point out the feeling you’re getting from the current work and how it differs from your goal.

Finally, a request for a meeting makes it clear that further communication is required, but that you are prepared to continue trying to sort it all out.

Lastly, don’t panic.

Design is hard work and it is difficult for a designer to hit the proverbial nail the first time. Timely feedback, great communication, and relevant examples can pull just about any project out of the rocks and on to successful completion.

Have you ever had a design project go sideways and what did you do about it? Designers, do you have a favourite way to hear feedback from your clients? Share in the comments.

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