Good Questions to Ask Clients that Aren't Sure What They're Looking For

It’s a common refrain professional service providers can commiserate on - when you provide a first cut of a draft, or a first round of design options after discussing project scope and goals… and you get a “I don’t like it.” That’s great! Let’s fix what you don’t like! “I don’t know what I don’t like, I just don’t like it.”

Sometimes this occurs because project parameters weren’t clear. Sometimes, your client may not have the same vocabulary and mindset to describe what they actually want - especially when you’re designing or writing for folks that don’t work in that headspace. Sometimes people can feel awkward about saying they don’t like what you did. And hey, sometimes minds change! Negative feedback is part of the client services game.

Vague feedback like “I just don’t like it” or “it needs to be better” can be frustrating, but you have to work the problem. Your goal is always to get your client to where they need to go, not teach them how to critique a logo. With that in mind, here are some questions I ask when a client may not know exactly what they want, or how to articulate why they are reacting negatively:

Are we in the ballpark?

Find out if you’re at tweak and revise or if you’re at back to the drawing board.

Is anything specifically speaking to you? Positively or negatively?

Even if they can’t come up with why they don’t like what you’ve written, or the mockup you’ve made, this can help them narrow it down. “Well, I like the bold lettering here.” “The intro is stronger than the rest.” “I just don’t like that purple.”

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you look at the draft?

Laugh all you want, but word association, or figuring out what they see first, versus what you intended, can help pinpoint where the disconnect is. “The first thing I see is that line in the background looks like it’s cutting her in half.” “It looks like a wall of text.”

Small suggestions can prompt good directives for round two - and easy prompts like this can help, rather than put your client on the defensive with a “Well, WHY don’t you like it?”