5 Tips For Better Design Collaboration With Clients

February 15, 2024

Your creative team has spent hours upon hours on a large project for one of your most prominent clients, using internal design collaboration to make it just perfect. 

Eventually, the most important day arrives—the big unveiling. 

Presenting the creative work is exciting and fun (and yes, a bit anxiety-inducing). But what follows is actually the most crucial part: the client’s feedback. 

However, all your client had to say after your presentation was “I don’t know, I just don’t like it.”

Yes, it’s heart wrenching as a creative to even think about those devastating words. But it begs the question:

How do you get productive design feedback that makes the work better?

Creative feedback is one milestone every design project has in common. It’s a natural part of the process. It benefits project collaboration and it helps your team grow.

However, many people outside of the creative industry have a hard time articulating their thoughts. It can be difficult for clients and collaborators to focus their feedback beyond ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it.’ 

The responsibility then falls on your team to ask the right questions and use design collaboration techniques to move the work forward.

So how do you prevent the dreaded “I’ll know it when I see it,” and move past surface-level comments? 

Whether you’re working on UX design, landing pages, website design, or any visual work, here’s an actionable list that’ll help you create a clearer design collaboration process with your client.

1. Ask What the Decision Hierarchy Is

While a client may be one company, the decision-makers in the project you’re working on include several stakeholders within that organization. And among them, there’s likely a pecking order. 

Collaborating with several stakeholders, often in opposing roles, can easily lead to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation. It can also delay the project more than you think.

It’s essential to assign a single owner on the client side, often a project manager, to make sure all design collaboration filters through this person and they consult every needed stakeholder.

Wayne Pelletier from Resonant Pixel, a small agency owner with 20+ years of experience in brand strategy and client management, shares that building a client-designer relationship is a learning process.

“I now know after years of doing this what and how to share.” - Wayne Pelletier, Resonant Pixel

Pelletier adds that you should never send something off for approval without context. 

He suggests having a meaningful conversation on how you strategically delivered each piece of content. Include some commentary of your own explaining the “why” behind the execution.

“Punchlist is a fantastic design collaboration tool for this,” Pelletier says, “as it consolidates all comments in one place. It also records changes for those who missed a meeting and keeps a “paper trail” of decision history.”

In the end, knowing the owner of the project and the decision hierarchy within the client’s company will help streamline the design collaboration process and keep the project moving forward.

2. Encourage a Problem vs. Solution Perspective

When the client needs something to change in a creative execution, they may come to you with a suggested solution. 

Rather than immediately change based on their feedback, listen to them and follow up on their comment by asking what the initial problem is. 

Encourage them to tell you about the problem they see, and your design team can quickly create solutions based on their design expertise, rather than through micromanagement and relying solely on what the client thinks is right.

This can foster trust within your client-designer relationship. Plus, it uses your agency’s expertise more effectively—while giving the client what they want.

You don’t need a prescription for exactly what to do. You may just need to know the creative challenge, and the constraint—then you can use design collaboration to come up with a solution to the problem together.

3. Keep Asking Why

Why? Why? WHY? That is the question.

While listening is a number one priority during design collaboration, it’s also important to understand the why behind the client’s wants. 

Before moving to the next item, ask why. Get clarification if needed on the intention behind a specific piece of feedback. Often the issue is easy to resolve—or may not even need to be addressed.

In some cases, if you provide data to support your design decisions, it can quickly resolve feedback without the need for changes. Some stakeholders are more data-driven than design-driven. 

They want to see how your design decisions will work within their strategy. For example, how a site will perform with a specific target audience and how these design elements play into that.

Keep asking why and follow up, if needed, with some performance, conversion, or UX data to corroborate your decisions.

If you really want to understand a client’s rationale behind their comments, try the 5 Whys framework. This will get you to the emotional root cause of their displeasure and help you deliver their desired outcome with a creative solution of your own.

4. Consolidate Design Comments—Both Ways

Consolidating design collaboration feedback works both ways when working with clients. After the initial delivery, get the team together and go over it in detail when responding to the client’s points.

Here’s Wayne Pelletier again with his thoughts.

“Punchlist allows me to have a productive conversation about the granular pieces of the creative and move past the “do you like it” phase.” - Wayne Pelletier, Resonant Pixel

Consolidating all design collaboration comments before a meeting can help both parties get more done in a meeting. Plus, the ability to quickly share a Punchlist URL in a Google Calendar invite makes it easy for the client to access.

Pelletier likes to add comments and mark them up in Punchlist before going over everything on a call with the client. 

“Punchlist is a game-changer because you can have all that feedback in one place and have a conversation about it. I can screen-share and show those things line by line.” - Wayne Pelletier, Resonant Pixel

5. Beware of Scope Creep

Scope creep is every client's—and agency’s—nemesis. It’s very common: over 50% of projects fall to scope creep. 

That’s why it’s important to have a clear project owner. Unorganized design collaboration makes it difficult to filter through rogue emails and can stop a project dead in its tracks.

At some point, the client needs to pick a path forward so you can avoid scope creep and get the project past the finish line.

Here’s a tip: Before your kick-off meeting, scale back the options intentionally before presenting them to the client.

Non-designers can quickly get overwhelmed with too many options. When you’re presenting your ideas, pick up to three and give the pros and strategic “why” behind each. 

Keep the meeting on a good path by clearly stating the options and explaining completed feedback and action items before moving forward.

The client must understand why these are the best options and how to make an informed decision. If they need reassurance, repeat the project’s original purpose and the overarching options so they can see the whole picture.

Lastly, be mindful of going through too many rounds of revisions. 

Sometimes a freelancer or small studio startup will offer “unlimited revisions” on creative work. 

Avoid this trap. Talk through how many revisions the client will get early in the process and be sure to put it in your scope.

Enhancing Client Collaboration With Punchlist

Design collaboration is one constant every agency, studio, or freelancer has to deal with. So, the process should be clear, concise, straightforward, and easy to replicate across projects.

Collaborating with clients shouldn’t be a chore. It should be a pleasant experience for both sides of the table.

With Punchlist’s client collaboration software, you can empower your clients to leave detailed feedback and answer your questions all in one place. 

Say goodbye to:

  • Long, drawn-out afternoon meetings
  • Endless email threads
  • Getting feedback on the wrong version of the file

Punchlist’s design collaboration tools provide easy-to-copy URLs so sharing with the client is a breeze and comments are kept all in one spot.

Sign up for Punchlist today to start improving the design collaboration process with your clients! Help them help you create better work.

Design Collaboration FAQs

How do you build collaborative relationships with clients?

Building collaborative relationships with clients is essential for a successful client-designer relationship. Here are some key strategies to foster design collaboration:

  1. Open Communication Channels: Regularly touch base with clients through emails, calls, or meetings to discuss project progress, address concerns, and gather feedback.
  1. Active Listening: Take the time to understand your client’s vision so you can tailor your work accordingly. 
  1. Set Expectations Early: Clearly define project scope, timelines, deliverables, and responsibilities at the beginning of the collaboration. 
  1. Flexibility and Adaptability: Be open to exploring alternative solutions, revising designs, or adjusting timelines as necessary to meet client expectations. 
  1. Celebrate Achievements Together: Recognize progress and accomplishments to reinforce the bond between you and your clients. 

How will failing to collaborate affect clients?

Failing to support client collaboration can misalign expectations, compromise quality, increase delays, diminish trust, and reduce satisfaction, leading to a more negative client-designer relationship.

What makes a good designer-client relationship?

A good designer-client relationship starts with introducing your client to your collaboration process, being transparent in your communication, being patient while navigating your client through the work, and being adaptable to whatever feedback the client gives while implementing it thoughtfully.

What tools and platforms are effective for facilitating collaboration with clients?

There are tons of design review softwares, design collaboration tools, and client collaboration softwares that can help facilitate client collaboration. But, the one that offers the most features to streamline the design collaboration process is Punchlist.