Avoid Feedback Follies: 9 Tips for Gathering Input for Design

Design Tips

Good design is an iterative process, a back and forth conversation between the designer and client, and most times, with the client’s users and stakeholders. As you can imagine, corralling and compiling feedback from multiple sources to share with the designer can be difficult for a client.

The process varies for each client depending on their organizational culture and values, as well as the particular piece being designed, but here are 9 tips, gathered from our clients’ own experiences, to make the general process easier. (Thanks to Leadership Public Schools, IDEX (soon to be Thousand Currents), and New Resource Bank for sharing your advice!)

1. Set roles and expectations. First, decide whose input will be needed and make your expectations clear to them. For example, one client put together a small committee of three people to provide feedback to the designer. However, they also valued a participatory approach and wanted to be sure include their field partners, staff, board, and more. So for each group, they informed them that while their input was valued, ultimately the final decision on design would rest with the smaller committee. Extra tip: Get your leader’s approval for this decision to make sure you have the ability to enforce the expectations.

2. Orient: Make sure folks know what the goal of the design piece is so that they can tailor their feedback to that common objective.

3. Be Clear: Pose short, direct questions when soliciting feedback. Don’t inundate people with lengthy explanations right off the bat.

4. Facilitate: Try out different exercises to better understand what people like and don’t like, and to gauge the differences and similarities in your stakeholders’ goals and visions. It’s easy for people to criticize and identify what they do not like, so it’s helpful to find ways to figure out what they do like, and to parse out similarities to get everyone on the same page.

5. Listen. Put your opinion on the backburner, especially early on in the process. Agree, direct, or validate certain comments occasionally, but mostly try to let stakeholders speak freely and openly about what they want. As the “synthesizer” and interlocutor, you have a lot of power to shape input as you translate and compile it for the designers.

6. Be persistent: Sometimes it takes 2-3 messages or calls to get responses. It’s ok – and necessary – to poke, nudge, prod, and nag (a little) to get the feedback you want.

7. Know when to fold ’em: When stakeholders are not responding (even after your poking, prodding and nagging), sometimes you just have to move on. If it’s not a priority for them, you can’t force it. It can be tough, balancing the desire to create a democratic and community-based process with the need to be an executive decision maker, but don’t be afraid to draw the line.

8. Use the phone & video chat when possible. E-mail can be a blessing and a curse. Real-time check-ins often lead to the best insights and agreements.

9. Think in multi-stage processes. Stakeholder expectations (and the timelines on which they respond with feedback) can be out of sync with deliverables and designer needs. Remind stakeholders (and yourself) that all designs are works-in-process. Manage stakeholder expectations by letting them know that you can always revise and revamp materials more extensively down the road, but that the team must focus on the most important, core pieces first.

For example, one client’s staff had lofty dreams about interactive features for a new website but were not able to communicate clearly what they wanted. While admiring their ambitious approach and excitement, she knew they would not have the bandwidth to invest time and effort into this type of project. So she tabled their feedback for the “second stage,” and tried to emphasize “first stage” needs to get basic website redesign off the ground.

What tips do you have for collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders? Let us know and share with our community!