20 Horrible Types of Feedback That Every Creative Dreads

By on May 2, 2016 in Humor
20 Horrible Types of Feedback That Every Creative Dreads

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that every designer who has been in the business for at least a few years has received some frustrating and cringe-worthy feedback from clients about their work. Much of the blame rests on poor initial communication, a lack of understanding about our respective roles, and, I think, a large crop of designers who haven't apprenticed with folks who have modeled professional habits in client relationships, instead jumping into freelance work. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just get terrible feedback.

Here are a few examples based on my own experience or on that of folks I know.

1. "I know we're a landscaping company, but I really don't like green."

When dealing with feedback that threatens to allow personal preferences – irrelevant ones specifically – to sabotage a project's success, it is important to always return to the desired outcome of the project when discussing why something might not work. It is perfectly professional to remind a client that your goal is to communicate with and elicit a response from the folks whose patronage is wanted.

Letting personal preferences interfere with appropriate design decisions.

2. "My wife likes it in this other font I found."

It is awkward, and can feel quite insulting when work that you've put through the rigors of research, brainstorming, and pruning is subject to flippant comments and the whims of someone who isn't trained as a designer. Again, we have to shift the focus back to the goals of the project.

Feedback that doesn't put the weight on the project that you have yourself

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3. "So I want this logo to feel modern and trendy, but also classic at the same time. I want to capture the timelessness of filmmaking while showing that we are always at the forefront of new technologies. But I definitely don't want it to be too busy."

Feedback like this has come more often on logos than anything else, because folks place a lot of importance on them, and sometimes simply want them to do too much.

Unclear, over-ambitious goals

4. "This feels too big-city to me. Make it more home-y."

There is something of substance meant here, but this alone is too vague and open for interpretation to base any targeted changes on. "What does big-city mean to you?" would be a good follow-up question. Even adjectives like "modern" or "classy" or "retro" fall into this same category of ambiguity.

Subjective, jargon-filled feedback

5. "I don't like it."

Yes, we need to know this, but we need to know why or nothing can be done to change it.

Unhelpful negative feedback

6. "I love it."

Okay, I have to admit: I like to hear this. But it can be a paralyzing thing moving forward if we're not on the same page about what is liked.

Unhelpful positive feedback

7. "When I said 'Just do your thing,' I was really thinking..."

If the initial direction given by a client is "do what you do," this very often results in the client not being happy with the work presented. And it's a dangerous route to take as a designer because the attitude behind this approach often includes not properly establishing expectations.


Flip-floppy feedback

8. "I really like what you did. But can you change [everything about it]?"

If someone says they really like what you did (which is, again, nice but not very informative), but wants all the defining characteristics of it changed, it's time to sit back down and get on the same page about what the objectives are.

Contradictory feedback

9. "I like what you did. But what we're really looking for is [unrelated thing]..."

One of the most awkward, debilitating things to hear is feedback that doesn't actually address what has been done. If the first try isn't what is wanted, a clear project path must be followed that will achieve the desired objectives while still falling reasonably within a project's scope. So addressing what has been presented – how specifically it does or does not meet goals – is a must.

Not addressing what has been presented

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10. "We actually need 3 more main navigation links."

Whether it is requesting a major site re-organization half-way into a web project or adding 2 paragraphs into a tightly packed brochure, it is frustrating to receive requests that seem to overlook the planning that has already been required up to this point.


Changing the scope or specs in impractical ways

12. "I'll know what I want when I see it."

Probably once in the history of Earth has this been uttered before a happy, profitable project. If you hear this, there has been a terrible misunderstanding, and an immediate re-evaluation of the project is needed.

Not allowing for a clear path forward
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12. "This type looks too Gaelic (or funky or Middle-Age) for us."

Fear of alienating some (a reasonable concern) can lead to marks that aren't as unique as they could be. It's important to establish early on what the mandatory elements are in a project, and if the client has something specific in mind, to clarify this. By the way, this specificity isn't a bad thing, but you should know it before you explore half a dozen solutions that are non-starters. The logical follow-up question would be, "what about the type looking Gaelic is problematic to you?" It may simply be that the client has a clearer idea of what they want than you imagined.

Vague feedback which doesn't address the actual problem

13. "There's a mistake here. Tea leaves actually have more ridges than this."

In other words, the feedback is that the art doesn't match the reality. As designers, it is often our job to distil reality into symbols and motifs that indicate reality, not duplicate it. This must be communicated to folks we're working with.

Expecting design to duplicate reality

14. Can you use the symbol from this mark with the type from that mark?

The point of providing options is usually to give widely varying paths to choose from, so cobbling pieces together usually results in something that looks cobbled together.

Requests for Frankenstein solutions

15. "This 'logo' is just letters. I could have done that."

In designing logos, one should explore a wide variety of options, but that exploration often leads back to a seemingly simple solution. (Although, of course, custom type is a serious and complicated endeavor.) Often, the solution is something the client could physically do his or herself, but that doesn't make the exercise to discover that any less important or specialized.

Unappreciative (or simply uninformed) feedback

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16. "Imagine the mechanisms of an evil, insane deity, mechanisms which at any time might pierce the world."

This sort of feedback is baffling and irksome. It's not only subjective, but assumes that your interpretation of their vision will match their mental imagery. But it's much better than a lack of direction, and there is some really great content behind it if only it is better parsed, translated from their mind to something you can get a grip on.

Nonsensical feedback

17. "I really like this logo. Can you work a cityscape in somehow?"

Moving forward with a logo is a big commitment, and often causes people to want to jam in as much content as possible so they are clearly reflected. What must be understood is that a logo can never tell your full, detailed story. It's a signature essentially.

Trying to do too much with a logo

18. "I thought you were good at this."

If you've really put your heart and effort into a project, and the feedback you get is not only unhelpful, but personally insulting, that's a relationship that's pretty hard to salvage. This has not happened to me, but did to someone sitting right next to me. It didn't look like a fun situation.

Hateful feedback

19. ...

There is no less useful feedback than absolutely no feedback. In one really odd situation, a client fell off the face of the Earth for months. Eventually everything was worked out, monetarily and logistically (legal rights, how to move forward), but it threw a kink in my work and scheduling process.

No feedback. Literally nothing.

20. "This is unacceptable." (And it really is.)

Without a doubt, the most dreaded feedback is negative feedback that you know is absolutely warranted. Maybe you under-estimated the time required, or maybe you spelled their name wrong in your logo comps. Whatever the case, it is no fun when you messed up big and you know it.

Bad feedback that you deserve.


Let me be clear. Most clients do not make a habit of giving bad feedback. Part of the reason these things incite dread then, at least for me, is that when I've gotten this type of response, it's usually an indication that I've not communicated properly. Most of these can be avoided when proper expectations are set up at the outset about what our respective roles are. That requires that we remember a big part of our jobs as designers is educating folks about what in the world it is that we do.


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Derek Weathersbee

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Designer, developer, instructor & weekend music maker. I also love type & release my own on weathersbeetype.com, and some of my older design work can be seen at derekweathersbee.com. I write mostly non-design-specific articles occasionally at manmakefire.org.

21 Comments

  1. awesome article...i've heard many of these and struggled with explaining to the client that personal intentions can conflict with the overall goal.

  2. This is much better than the bulk of stuff y'all post. I like that it's informative and constructive rather than the usual commiserating and making fun of clients.

    More of this please. Less stock photos of "20 Inspiring Home Offices"

  3. Thanks for the lovely article. I don't feel so alone anymore. :)
    I have received many of these, and some doozies as well where I go... WHAT the hell were they thinking?

    Early on in my career, I realized that because a client might not quite understand the creative process, I needed to play a more intrinsic part in educating them on how to provide objective feedback without insulting their intelligence. It was tough at first because as designers, our emotions are so well wrapped into the hard work we put out. For me it was very difficult not take things personally in my first years as designer. Stepping away from the feedback before responding helped to put things into better perspective.

    Regarding the feedback itself, I found that there is some validity to most feedback we receive of our work, even if we don't like it. I dismiss the personal comments or those that appear to be attacks to our personal aesthetic. Trying to understand the client's meaning behind their feedback for me took a lot of practice. I became very frustrated at times because I didn't know how to deal with it. It helped me to read the comments several times so that I could remove the personal aspect of the message and the meaning behind their personal "language". Later on, I was able to better assess the true meaning of the feedback which allowed for more directed communication. I thought of it this way, if I do not pay attention to client's thoughts, I will not be able to grow as a designer.

    So far, taking the approach of always providing objective responses back to subjective feedback has worked. It puts the focus back on the project and away from personal preferences because I back up my responses on the foundations of design.

    I think that asking as many questions as possible at the beginning of a project removes the necessity for so much unnecessary feedback. I ask questions about fonts, colors, and design style preferences in addition to asking for examples of what the client is thinking about or sketches/drawings. I have found that many clients do not necessarily know how to explain things in design language and helping them by showing examples has worked for me.

  4. "Why did you change the fonts? I really like those fonts." The submitted logo idea was Papyrus and Comic Sans and I had the nerve to try and suggest looking at different fonts.

  5. Most, if not all, of these issues can be headed off before they arise by doing proper surveys and audits that guide a strategic approach to the design problem(s). Subjectivity is inherent in our profession, but strategy puts objective guardrails on the conversation and keeps projects moving forward.

  6. When I was doing video event production (weddings, etc.) as well as animated marketing projects, some clients (thankfully very few) would request using lots of SFX: spheres and cubes spinning off into space, picture breaking up into mosaics, images bouncing into the frame, and other equally grotesque effects. Why do people hire professionals and then proceed to sabotage our work!?

    Dave R: Papyrus or Comic Sans by themselves = Bad. Combined in one logo = Justifiable Homicide.

  7. i am a relatively new designer and am not looking forward to these kinds of fearsome feedback, but i know they are inevitable. thank you for your kindness in placing these in one list so that i can look to the future and attempt to satisfy my clients from the get-go. i will use your list here to help me communicate more efficiently and professionally in my initial interviews. they're going in my notebook for constant reference! blessings to you all!

  8. I completely agree, Jason. You've stated succinctly what I'm aiming for. Proper communication (in whatever format that takes, but which must define goals) is key in minimizing most all types of negative interactions with clients.

    What you mention, Enrique, is simple but amazing advice for dealing with discouraging feedback: parsing what is said into objective analyses, and working with that instead. Your comment is an article within an article.

    I would like to say I'm immune to these things, but of course I'm not or I wouldn't be so easily able to compile a list. But the more consistently I work on client work (as opposed to self-initiated work), the less I encounter these issues because I am forced to be methodical if I want to be profitable. Many people and, especially studios, have a much more structured project initiation process than myself.

    So, Jessica, you will encounter some of this, but a person with good discipline – better than my own – can, as stated, avoid most of this. Not all of it. But most.

  9. I hate people like that. They should be honestly scolded for every such comment. I can imagine how frustrating it can be for creators!

  10. I read this article to help me, as a client, to better understand how to best enter into dialogue with a company, which I found useful. A few of the comments have me leery though.

  11. J above, your thoughts, as a client, are highly valuable, so if you have particular concerns, please do voice them. (I'm a working designer primarily, so it'd be silly for me to go on a client-bashing rant.) So I've made an attempt to point out things that I know designers can relate to, but then make sure and keep us on the hook for it while writing the article given.

  12. "Most of these can be avoided when proper expectations are set up at the outset about what our respective roles are." A+

    That's exactly what my comment was going to be. I haven't had a client yet that gets upset when I give a small overview of project deliverables that include the *type* of comments that are useful and actionable from them. (ie: how to structure comments to be specific and defined)

  13. I spend more time and energy educating the client, along the lines of consulting in the beginning of conversations even before I am paid. This allows me to properly perform ensure that they understand my process and my logic before we get started. I always request approval communications before moving forward. We will always work from what was approved. This also increases my cash flow with pre-determined milestones and payment upon completion of each step. This cuts down on unnecessary revisions as well. Educating them through each step of the process.

    No matter how long you've been doing creative, or digital for that matter, learn from each client and continue to develope and shape processes that work in your favor first, that will provide the best case scenario to arrive at a client that is pleased with your work.

    Oh, yeah, this also allows you to increase your rates along the way. They will notice the difference between working with a designer that educates them, that has a process, and communicates effectively, than compared to another designer that just throws something together and hopes the client likes it.

  14. I am a new designer and I was so fustrated because I got some of these from a client. Now I am so happy that it's not me, it's the client he,he! I am not alone on this as I see many of you have experimented this too. Happy to read this article though!

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