It can be a hard thing to hear, especially after you’ve poured hours into a project or design. But chances are, at some point in your career, it’s going to happen. Some day, a client is going to look up from all those hours of creating, turn to you, and say, “I don’t like it.”
And if it hasn’t happened to you already, be warned that it’s not going to be an especially fun experience.
But there’s no reason one tiny “I don’t like it” should make you feel like a failure or crush your creative hopes forever.
Instead, there are a few big things you can do that’ll help change your ulcer-inducing fear of hearing “I don’t like it” into feedback that actually helps improve your work.
Get over yourself
When someone tells you they don’t like your work, your gut reaction may be to get a little bit defensive, but take a deep breath. I’m about to hit you with some Real Talk here: You’ve got to suck it up and get over it.
While that might seem insensitive — believe me, I’ve been there — the best thing you can do is acknowledge their comments and move on. It’s not going to help you or your client to nurse that wounded ego for long.
Think about retail tycoon Marshall Field’s well-known mantra: “The customer is always right.” While there are certainly times when that’s not entirely true (I’m looking at you, clients who adore excessive use of drop shadows), it’s important to remember why you’re working on this project. For a client. Who, at the end of the day, needs to be happy with what they’re paying for.
At the very least, it’s important to remember that when a client says, “I don’t like this,” they’re not saying, “I don’t like you.” It might be difficult at first, but don’t let yourself take their feedback personally.
Nail down exactly what they don’t like
A lot of times when a client says they don’t like something, they don’t mean they hate every little part of it. Especially if your client doesn’t have a design background, it can sometimes be difficult to clearly articulate the pieces that don’t hit home.
To turn that around, find out which specific aspects of the project they aren’t such big fans of and which ones they actually like. Start by asking some basic questions to try to narrow down where the problem is coming from:
- How do you feel about this color scheme? What about these fonts? Use specific elements of the design like color scheme and font as a barometer for what your client might not like. Maybe it’s an easy fix, like swapping warm colors for cool ones.
- How do you feel this represents your brand? Even if they don’t love every single aspect of your first attempt, that doesn’t mean you’re totally off base. If the overall tone and messaging of what you’ve created is in line with your client’s brand, an “I don’t like it” might be resolved with a couple tiny tweaks instead of an entire redesign.
- What would you have done differently? This is a tricky one, so ask it with caution. Remember, you’re the professional, and they hired you for a reason. At the same time, sometimes it’s helpful to ask your client flat out what they would have done differently. Granted, you could be opening up a can of worms here, but with certain types of clients, directness can be the way to go.
Make sure you’re both on the same page
In a similar vein, sometimes hearing “I don’t like it” means there was some sort of miscommunication about what your client was looking for to begin with. Instead of placing blame — “But you told me you wanted me to think outside of the box” isn’t going to cut it right now — have a constructive conversation about what everyone’s expectations are for the project.
A less than stellar reaction could have stemmed from their vague description of what they were looking for just as much as it could have resulted from your lack of knowledge about their vision. Urge them to be more specific about what they’re looking for. It’ll only help both of you in the end.
When it comes down to it, my most important piece of advice is to keep a positive mindset. While it might not come naturally at first, use the experience to hone your client communication skills and practice adapting your design aesthetic.