You hire a designer, share your vision, and provide detailed feedback on the first draft. But after three more rounds of painstaking notes, the design still doesn’t quite hit the mark. You’re frustrated, wondering why you’ve invested so much time in such specific feedback when that’s precisely what you hired a designer for - to understand your needs and deliver results without extensive hand-holding. Are your spidey senses tingling yet?

The truth is, even the most talented designers aren’t mind readers. They rely on clear, constructive feedback to iterate and refine their work. But as it turns out, giving useful design feedback is harder than it looks.

The feedback gap

Companies that collaborate are 30% more innovative and at least 36% more productive than those that don’t, tying collaboration to two highly desirable organizational outcomes. A company’s collaboration index also increases sales by 27% and improves customer satisfaction ratings by 41%, demonstrating the tangible benefits of collaboration on key business metrics. 

For clients partnering with creative agencies, this means that the level of collaboration within the agency directly impacts the quality, efficiency, and, ultimately, the success of the design work they receive.

However, when it comes to creative projects, 39% of employees say people at their organization don’t collaborate enough, suggesting that many clients may not be reaping the full benefits of a collaborative design process.

We know feedback matters, but we often struggle to provide helpful and actionable input. The factors behind this disconnect are multifaceted:

  • Stakeholders often lack formal design training, making it challenging to articulate their ideas in “design speak.”
  • Creative work is inherently subjective, so it’s hard to separate personal preference from objective input.
  • Tight deadlines and busy schedules leave little time for thoughtful, in-depth feedback.

The result? Endless revisions, mounting frustrations, and subpar design outcomes. Poor communication leads to project failure one-third of the time. We can do better.

Why feedback falls short

Where does design feedback go wrong? We come across four common pitfalls:

1. It’s too opinion-focused

Stakeholders often give feedback based on personal opinions and preferences rather than strategic objectives. This subjective approach can lead to design decisions that don’t align with the project’s goals, resulting in a final product that, ironically, fails to meet the client’s needs and expectations.

Opinion-focused: “The design looks too busy.”
Goal-oriented: “With multiple buttons and competing visual bits, users may not be sure what to do next. Let’s prioritize the main message and simplify the layout to focus on it.”

2. It lacks context

Feedback that’s vague, overly broad, or divorced from the project goals isn’t helpful. Without clear context, designers are left to guess at the client’s intentions, leading to misinterpretations and wasted effort. This lack of clarity can result in designs that miss the mark (following a non-designer’s design direction) and require extensive revisions, delaying the project and frustrating both the client and the agency team.

Opinion-focused: “I’m not a fan of the illustration style.”
Goal-oriented: “The illustration style feels disconnected from our brand guidelines, which specify using realistic photography. We should aim for consistency across all our marketing materials.”

3. It focuses on solutions, not problems

Inexperienced stakeholders tend to prescribe design solutions rather than articulating the underlying issue. While well-intentioned, this approach can limit the designer’s ability to explore creative solutions that may better address the root problem. By focusing on symptoms rather than causes, clients may inadvertently steer the project in a direction that fails to meet their ultimate objectives. After all, you wouldn’t tell a professional chef what seasoning to add.

Skilled designers excel at solving problems creatively if they understand the core problem. 85% of designers believe imaginative thinking is crucial for problem-solving in their careers. We’re on it if you’ll let us!

Opinion-focused: “The colors are too dull.”
Goal-oriented: “Based on user research, our target audience responds well to bright, energetic colors. We should incorporate more vibrant hues to capture their attention.”

4. It comes too late

Giving feedback at the end of the design process sets everyone up for frustration and wasted effort.

When clients wait until the design is nearly complete to provide substantive feedback, it often requires significant rework, pushing timelines and budgets past their breaking point. This delay in feedback strains the client-agency relationship and can result in a final product that feels rushed or compromised.

As the project progresses, feedback can become more detailed and specific. But changing the fundamental direction late in the game is like deciding to move the walls when the house is already built. The same principle applies to design—structural changes late in the process often lead to missed deadlines and blown budgets. Good designers think in systems, so changes you might not think are structural actually are.

Yes, you can!

At this point, you might be thinking…

“But I’m not a designer! How can I give goal-oriented feedback?”

Here’s the thing: it’s not your job to be the designer. That’s precisely why you hired an expert, remember? Your role is to communicate your business goals, target audience insights, and desired outcomes. Focus your feedback on how the design impacts those objectives, not on prescribing creative solutions. Trust your designer to take your input and translate it into visual execution.

“There’s just no time for rounds and rounds of feedback!”

Work with your designer to streamline the process. Schedule key feedback milestones at the outset: the initial strategy session, a mid-project concept review, and a final refinement round.

The most efficient way to use those touchpoints is to provide high-level, goal-oriented feedback tied to your objectives, then let your designer run with it. Resist the urge to art direct or prescribe specific creative changes. Remember, you’re partnering with a design expert for a reason – trust their ability to solve the problems you’ve identified.

You can further maximize everyone’s time by consolidating feedback from multiple stakeholders into a single document, clarifying priorities, and ensuring alignment before looping in the designer.

“Design is so subjective. What if the designer disagrees with my feedback?”

Subjectivity is inherent to creative work. But in a healthy designer-client relationship, subjectivity shouldn’t lead to conflict.

Think of it this way: Your designer has built a career by honing their creative instincts and problem-solving skills. In a subjective disagreement, it usually makes sense to defer to the expert’s judgment if it aligns with your strategic objectives.

Of course, this assumes you’ve chosen the right creative partner. The best designers are open to feedback and committed to finding solutions that satisfy the project goals. Have an honest conversation upfront about your needs, expectations, and feedback style. Invest time in discussing the brief and aligning on the measures of success. A little trust-building goes a long way in navigating the subjectivity inherent to creative collaboration.

The GOT IT framework for stellar design feedback

Ready to do better? Follow this handy framework I just made up:

  • GOALS: Tie your feedback directly to the project objectives and audience needs
  • OBJECTIVITY: Strive to provide goal-oriented input, not just opinion-based reactions
  • TIMING: Aim to give feedback early and at key project milestones to avoid major rework
  • INSIGHTS: Share relevant information about your strategy to inform the design strategy
  • TRUST: Remember that you hired an expert for a reason - a little trust goes a long way!

The power of partnership 💪

Constructive design feedback isn’t just beneficial—it’s essential for achieving the creative results your business needs and getting good value from your creative budget.

Focusing on clear, goal-oriented feedback can bridge the feedback gap, foster better collaboration, and ultimately achieve more successful design outcomes.

Remember, your role is to articulate the vision and objectives, not to dictate the design. Trust your designer’s expertise and work together to create something truly impactful.