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How to handle design reviews with your digital agency

This is one of the essays from our Metia Insights 2014 report, which has expert opinion on different areas of digital marketing, including social media, PR and design. You can download the whole report here.

The most exciting time to be working with an agency can be during review meetings – when creative concepts are presented. Leading up to those meetings, you (the client) have provided a project brief and defined the campaign goals, and the design team has applied their experience, intuition, and insight to produce concepts. The first design review is followed by rounds of revision, accompanied by debates over approaches and elements until the process concludes with an approved design. The nature of those debates is what we’re talking about in this post.

There are two types of criticism that come during design reviews

Objective Criticism:

This criticism is tied to tangible facts and data. For example, if you are presented with a design with the wrong version of your company logo, it is a fact that the logo should be updated. Objective feedback is specific, explicit, and trackable. A good sign that your feedback is objective is that it’s simple to explain how and why a change is being requested.

Subjective Criticism:

This criticism is tied to intangible impressions and preferences. Design and art are cousins, but design is not just art; design is a business tool. Subjective criticism is harder for designers to navigate because yes, you are the client, but it’s difficult to discern if your rejection of orange is applicable to the target audience. Subjective criticism is harder to explain. Whether the criticism is objective or subjective, it can always be constructive.

Here are some tips to give useful feedback to designers:

Do: Start with your overall impression

Before you dig into the finer details and feedback on a design, provide a “big picture” assessment of your take on the effectiveness of the design. “Overall, I think we got the concept right/missed the boat” will help to guide the conversation about the specifics. If you dive into the small adjustments that need to be made before providing the overall impression, the designer loses sight of the big picture and business goals.

Do: Ask the right questions

Right Question: “Does this meet our goals?”

Wrong question: “Do I like this?”

Assumptions are the enemy of learning, so if you aren’t sure about something, ask the designer. Designers will be prepared to explain choices made in the design, and their explanation could be delightfully unexpected. If you don’t like the color orange, ask the design team why they chose orange, and how using orange in the design will help the design succeed.

Don’t: Hold back

The last thing we want is for you to politely tolerate a design that you have serious reservations about, only to bring your concerns up at the last minute. Talk about concerns early in the process to avoid big problems further down the line.

Don’t: Prescribe solutions

It’s one thing to say that the “buy now” button is getting lost in the design, and it’s another thing to say “put the ‘buy now’ button here.” Tell the design team what they need to accomplish, and then let them determine the best way to accomplish it. Good designers have years of experience and training, and while it can be difficult to defer to someone else, it’s the right call when it comes to such a specialized field.

Bottom line

The design process is highly collaborative, and the goal of everyone involved is to launch a killer campaign that produces results for your business. It’s the agency’s responsibility to collect and respond to feedback effectively, and it’s the client’s responsibility to give feedback that is actionable, clear, and driven by business outcomes.