Helping clients give feedback

I’ve got a theory. It is based on the fact that no-one likes to sound like a nuff nuff. And nor do they want to look apathetic.

My theory is: if a designer asks for feedback, by joves, a client will give it. Clients will give their opinion regardless of whether they know/remember/have read the brief. And regardless of whether they have any background/experience/knowledge about the project. It’s just human nature. No-one wants to be perceived as having no opinion. That means most would rather offer an ad hoc, untrained, subjective ‘I don’t like orange’ response than look apathetic.

This is the classic lose:lose scenario. No-one is going to win. The client is often floundering, unsure of what to say to save face, and designer is left unsatisfied with the feedback and struggling to understand the next step.

One answer is to help frame a client’s feedback.  I’ve found a simple, lo-tech tool that does that well.

Why use a tool?

Firstly, every occupation uses tools, from brain surgeons to gardeners. Why is it that designers tend to rely solely on their thoughts? Generally, I think the more tools in our toolkit, the easier to make our designs fit for purpose.

More specifically, I started researching after meeting with a designer in our Chair program. One of the first activities in the program is completing a strengths and weakness wheel. One common ‘weakness’ for designers is getting client feedback.

Client feedback is important – design studios that have a good feedback mechanism generally show a better understanding of client expectations.

A client approval checklist

While designers live and breathe the brief, clients are often pulled in many different directions and solve many different problems between the meeting to brief-in the problem and the meeting to assess the solution.

I used to think that repeating the brief before presenting was the answer but alas, my oft-quoted What client’s think survey reported the opposite. Clients thought designers revisiting/repeating the brief was ‘boring’. They just wanted to get to the good stuff.

So that’s not an answer, but there is a need to reiterate the brief.

Enter the client approval checklist.

Think of it as cheat sheet, a reminder of what is relevant. A reminder of the problem to be solved.

A good client approval checklist uses the vocabulary of the problem, and language of the approved brief. It doesn’t introduce any new thinking, it just captures the existing, in a matrix.

A good client approval checklist essentially gives the responsible people a framework to respond to the design. (For responsible people think back to RASCI.) The objective is to steer the client away from giving unclear and subjective feedback.

What a checklist might look like

Every checklist differs because they are directly based on the brief, but they look similar.

How well the criteria is answered is across the top. Some projects may work with yes/no, others might need a sliding scale.

The questions in the left hand column are customised for each project or even stages of the project. There is very often more than one approval checklist within a project – for instance there could easily be one for each stage.

Here’s one idea of an approval checklist.

Obviously these questions are very general. It works best if the questions are specific to the brief; objective and based on criteria already approved. Definitely not: do you like this typeface? Aim for questions that actively discourage the client from art-directing the solution.

Take away

Accessing the right type of client feedback is not easy – it is difficult and it is challenging – and this is not the perfect solution. It’s just one more tool in our toolkit. And as they say, the more tools in our toolkit, the easier the job.

Want more information like this … take a look at The Business of Design, a publication including all the information you need to start, manage and grow an Australian design studio. Written by Australian design practitioners for Australian design studios.


Carol Mackay

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After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council she uses her experience, and research, to help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

In 2019 Carol co-founded the Business of Design Week. The next one is scheduled for early 2020.

An archive of her design work at
Her current work can be viewed at and

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