How to give feedback to your web design agency

(That actually gets results)

By Heather Buttrum

So you’ve decided to redo your website.

It’s been a battle to get buy-in from your company’s leadership and the associated budget approval, but you’ve finally hired an agency and the project is underway. Hurrah!

The stakes are high. Building a website is a major investment for any organization and, in 2021, your website is usually the first point of contact between you and your audience.

Fast forward a few weeks, and you’re excited to see what the agency has come up with in their progress update.

Your stomach sinks. You’re not happy with what you’re seeing.

Not. At. All.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

As a client, how do you get things back on track?

1. First, know that your agency wants to fix this as much as you do.

This is a situation nobody wants, including your agency. Like you, we want a great result from our work together. We want you to be happy and we want to be proud of what we’ve built for you. (Not to mention that a happy client is a repeat client and often a great source of referrals for future projects!)

When the stakes are high, it can be tempting to let things become adversarial, on both sides.

But the reality is that this kind of creative work can sometimes take a few iterations to meet everyone’s expectations. If you start from a place of believing that we’re all on the same team, and that we want the best for the project, it can have a big impact on how your feedback is received.

Trust me when I tell you that a good agency definitely wants to get it right, and we’ll need your help to get there.

2. Be specific with your feedback

Websites are a nebulous thing, especially when the project is in its early stages. The more detail you can give us about what you like (and what you don’t like), the more likely we are to get it right on our next pass. In my experience, people who get into web design and development for a living actually really like feedback, as they recognize how much better it can make the end result. So don’t be shy!

Here are some concrete examples of what I mean by specific feedback:

  • Instead of “I don’t like the fonts.”
  • Try “I don’t feel the fonts reflect our product. I’d like to see something that aligns with our fun and playful tone.”
  • Instead of “It’s not right yet, but I’ll know it when I see it.”
  • Try “I was expecting to see __________, and I wonder if we could try something closer to that?”
  • Instead of “Can you make it pop/be more impactful/jazz it up?”
  • Try “Here are some other websites that I really like and think match up with what we’re trying to do here. Can I tell you a bit about why I like them?”

Specific feedback helps us understand the gap between the website we’re working on and the website you expect. Once we get a handle on that gap, we can quickly get to work on closing it. Your agency should guide you through the feedback process and help you to make your input more specific and concrete.

3. Help us understand the “why” behind your feedback

We love feedback… with one caveat: It’s more helpful when it focuses on what you’re looking for/trying to do, rather than specific technical suggestions of how to fix it. We can get there together. Every element on a website has a purpose, and more importantly, these elements have a hierarchy and relationship to each other. Technical decisions are grounded in hours of research and weeks of development. If we hear:

“Can you put the logo on the right instead, make it 50% bigger, and get rid of all the white space on the homepage?”

Well, we want to cry, if I’m being honest.

Without knowing why you want this change, it’s hard for us to begin revisions that will achieve the best result for you and your website visitors. Instead, try framing your feedback in terms of the problem we’re solving for you or the impact on the end-user. This gives us all more freedom to come up with a solution that will achieve your objectives.

To use an example from another industry, it’s unlikely you would tell your cardiac surgeon that she should use a cryoablation technique versus radiofrequency for your procedure. Instead, you’d tell her that your heart is beating incredibly fast for no reason sometimes and you’d like to be able to get back to normal activities without feeling tired and breathless. Lives may not be on the line with a website, but we still hope you’ll trust us to listen carefully to the problem and use our experience and skills to figure out the best cure.

4. Start with a great brief, but stay with us for the whole ride

Website projects can evolve significantly from the initial project brief. As we work, we might uncover a problem we didn’t think of at the beginning or find an approach that is even better than our initial ideas. Having a comprehensive brief that everyone signs off on is an incredibly important first step. Working together to iterate on those initial ideas is just as important.

At Rain, we build frequent checkpoints into our website development process. Our clients will get a chance to see sitemaps and wireframes, followed by a design approach, followed by screen-by-screen designs, followed by mobile screens, followed by working prototypes, followed by a staging site they can kick the tires on. In short, we have learned to embrace the change that is inevitable with big complicated projects, and to build in opportunities to collaborate, offer feedback and get buy-in.

Practically, this also gives you some insight into why we’ve chosen the approach we have, and we encourage you to ask questions as we go. We love to geek out on best practices and creative solutions, and that’s even more fun when we have an audience! ;)

5. Be open to your agency’s feedback too

If you’ve hired a great agency, they aren’t going to implement ideas that they think will hurt the website experience or be confusing for your website visitors. Sometimes, we will push back on a request, and we will do so in a way that is respectful and solution-oriented.

Remember that you’ve hired us because we know what we’re talking about when it comes to building incredible website experiences. Just as you know your business and listening to your expertise is essential (for a successful project), take advantage of your agency’s experience and feedback. We all want to work together to get you the best possible outcome.

Want to share your thoughts with us?

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know your experiences with web design, collaboration and ideas on how you get the best results. Leave us a comment below or connect with us anytime.

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