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How to productively manage the client feedback process

It’s no secret: Feedback can be one of the most delicate areas of your relationship with a client. It introduces ego, personality, and opinion into the web design process. However, when managed well, this phase can result in constructive criticism that keeps a project moving forward, and a satisfied client who will recommend your services to others and want to work together in the future.

A large part of realizing this idea is teaching your clients early on how to give feedback on a website’s design, and clearly communicating your own expectations and deadlines from the start. As a non-designer, your client will need some guidance about what you mean when you say ‘revision’ - and a little of your empathy as they give you control over this crucial part of their business.

Below are seven of our top strategies for ensuring the client feedback process goes smoothly.

01. Set clear expectations by outlining the web design process

In your initial meeting with a client, walk them through your standard web design process so they know what to expect at every stage. While this kind of work is second nature for you, many of your clients may have never been part of a project like this before. Client anxiety can crop up when they feel they’re paying for a service that’s shrouded in mystery. That’s why orienting them along the expected timeline not only reassures the client, it also establishes your authority and professionalism.

This conversation is the time to review when revisions happen and how you classify them in your contract:

  • Indicate when the client’s input will be needed, and how you prefer to receive it (e.g. via text, email, phone, or video call).

  • Lay out the difference between a major and a minor revision, and the impact those alterations could have on their bill. Here’s what we mean by that: If you are charging by the hour, and your client requests a total structural rearrangement after seeing the mockups, they should be aware from the outset that a) this is classified as a major revision, b) it implies many extra work hours for you, and c) your fee will subsequently be higher than projected. This is a very different scenario than an image swap, which can be considered a minor revision. Give examples of these two types of revisions, and explain any implications they might have within your pricing model, so the client enters the project fully aware.

  • Mention how many feedback rounds you grant during the process. Putting a cap on this number is generally in the best interest of both you and your client. It keeps the project from becoming grounded in an iteration loop and lets you advance the website towards its final version. One pro tip is reminding your client at each revision how many feedback opportunities they have left. That way, they’re not caught by surprise when the final design is delivered and they suddenly have one more chance left for commenting. Again, the more upfront and explicit communication, the better.

Formalize this whole discussion within the signed contract. This document will become a central reference point for you and your client. Most of the time, ‘contract’ is invoked with a negative connotation, brought into play only when one party is in trouble.

You have the power to change that dynamic.

Reference it early on in connection with positive or neutral moments. Just take a look at this example:

“Just sending a quick update that we’re moving into the wireframes stage. Working on some ideas I’m really excited about - looking forward to showing you in another week like we talked about in the contract!”

This kind of language normalizes the contract within your client communication. If a disagreement should arise, the idea is that bringing up ‘The Contract’ will be more of a casual standard at that point, rather than a cause for alarm.

Our philosophy is that it’s always worth it to address common client pitfalls before they happen. Much better than jumping into crisis management mode down the line.

02. Teach your client what a successful revision process looks like

Most likely, you and your client are coming from different professional worlds. So when you request feedback, they might not necessarily know what you’re expecting, from format to substance.

Take a little time at the beginning of your relationship (a perfect time is when you're reviewing the revision policies in your contract!), to offer some educational instructions.

First, detail the steps in a conventional revision process:

  • You send the design to the client to be reviewed.

  • The client consults with any relevant stakeholders, and compiles all feedback to be shared with the designer. These comments should be shared in one message so nothing gets lost.

  • You now have the chance to ask some clarifying questions. Once you feel confident you’ve understood, send a list of action items to confirm you’re aligned.

  • Finally, you submit the revised version for your client to see, before moving on to the next stage.

Of course, your revision process might look slightly differently. The most important principle here is that you’ve found a workflow you like and that your client is aware of it.

Second, offer some guidelines for how your clients can give actionable feedback on your website design:

  • Be specific. Focus on articulating the problem or challenge what you see. Why it’s important: This encourages the client to move beyond an initial reaction founded in personal taste. Instead, it asks them to think critically about what parts of the design are troubling them, giving you a basis for further conversation and change.

  • Critique from the point of view of your target audience or users. Why it’s important: The exercise of stepping into their audience’s shoes will similarly help your client move beyond the subjective nature of their own style preferences, and instead refocus on the function they are hoping their website will serve.

Some web designers even find it helpful to consolidate this list into a document to send to

their clients.