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What to Say To Your Designer!

The team and I have heard it all! From the corporate world’s sharp and blunt ‘This is disgusting!’ to independent money makers' ‘I hate it...

We can list many many ways our clients have told us they didn’t like what we made. I kid you not, aside from that negative feedback, not many of them came back with a ‘Can you change this, etc’. They just leave us with ‘I don’t like it.’ or a ‘This is horrendous.’ in a one-sentence email and expect us to work with it. Fun times!

Negative feedback is part of the job and we since learned to take in the criticism and ask the necessary questions like, 'What would you like to try?' or 'Can you elaborate more on what it is you don’t like?' and so on.

At the beginning of our careers, there were A LOT of tears the clients never knew about. It’s a hard thing to hear, but thankfully most of us took the negativity and turned it into determination to really nail the project! But other times, I’ve actually seen creatives switch professions because they couldn’t handle the ‘feedback’.

Sometimes, people forget that beyond the screen we are human too. And that negative feedback really doesn’t do anything constructive to help us create the artwork for your brand. Often times, the harsh criticism just really slows down the process.

How else would we tell them we don’t like things, if we aren’t direct, Naj?” you ask.

Well, for starters, give us positive criticism, not negative. I have been a client and have worked with many designers, illustrators, editors, etc. and I have had times when I didn’t like the artwork. Criticism is definitely normal but avoiding words like ‘hate’, ‘awful’, etc, really makes a difference.


So, here are some constructive ways you can tell your designer, service provider, or whoever it is you're working with, that you don’t like what they come up with.


Scenario: You’re getting a rock star cover done for your latest book by a book cover designer. You’ve given them a sexy couple image to work with. And they sent you something where you dislike a lot of things. What do you say?

What they gave you: A cover with the same couple but with a mix of old school fonts, with more pinks and yellows. And a plain background.

What to say:

Thank you! But there are a few areas I’d like to change:

1. Can we try a different font? I’d like to try a cursive and edgier, something brush stroke and more ‘rock star’, like This feels more rock star to me than the current font.

2. Can we remove the pinks? And replace it with blues? I feel the pink is too feminine.

3. Can we remove the yellows? I’m not keen on that color.

4. Can we add a rock star background instead? Any suggestions?


- Saying ‘Thank You’ or thanking them for their hours of work, helps soften the blow.

- Check how many changes are in your package, how many revamps you’re allowed and work from there. It’s sometimes easier not to say you don’t like it, but instead list things you want to change, so it’s more constructive and the process keeps on moving.

- When you list your changes, it’s best to do it in bullet points so they don’t misunderstand anything (trust me this saves you SO MUCH time than having them decipher through essays.)

- You can definitely tell them why you want to change things, just like the example above. This helps direct them to what you have in mind.

# Let’s change the font. Why? It’s not a rock star enough. Translates to: Edgier Rock star font.

# Let’s change the yellow. Why? Most people hate it (lol). Translates to: Use something other than yellow or no yellow at all!

# Let’s change the pink. Why? It’s too feminine. Translates to: She wants to keep it masculine.

# Let’s add a rock star background. Why? The cover isn’t rock star enough. Translates to: Okay! Let’s rock up this cover!

What they gave you after your feedback:


The above was just minor tweaks. So, what if you really hate the cover and want to change it?

First of all, did you brainstorm enough with the creative? Did you tell them what you wanted? Or sometimes, the concept you brainstormed, just doesn’t work out and we need to change directions.

In this case, take a break. Have some coffee (or tea if you’re a tea drinker like me). Let your disappointment wash away a bit. Because it’s totally okay if they didn’t get it right the first time. We are service providers, so we want to make you as happy as we can get you with the results of whatever artwork we give you. As a client, we work with what you want and then suggest what are better ways to approach the initial idea that’s trending and more feasible.

Do you and your designer have a Plan B if the first concept doesn’t come out right? If not, find one. If you’re the type who’s nitpicky and needs to have control over the concept selected and yet you’re unsure what to do next, have your designer find one. Here’s how.

I had a similar experience with the author, Amanda Marin and she gave us an amazing response to the initial draft which moved us to really aim for the stars on our next round. We're using the covers we did for her as an example below. (Full disclaimer, the below scenario is fictional!)

Scenario: You and your designer have been brainstorming on this unique young adult sci-fi cover idea. There wasn’t a Plan B so far, but the designer went ahead with the concept and drafted it.

What they gave you: Exactly what you brainstormed but it didn’t come out as great as you thought it would.

What to say: Thank you for your hard work with this! But I don’t think this concept works well with the book as I thought it would! Do you have any suggestions on a Plan B concept we could try out? Can you send over some ideas on how to approach the cover that’s within the trends of YA Sci-fi?

What they should send back to you: Awh! That’s too bad. Absolutely! Here are some further ideas (not drafts) we can play around with. Are any of them closer to what you had imagined for your cover? If not, let’s brainstorm more and see what we can find together:

1. Concept 1

2. Concept 2

3. Concept 3

4. Etc

What you say back to them: Can you find me a few more? I’m not sure those are ‘it’ yet. I’ll take a look around as well to see if something fits better.

Designer: *Sends you more, and you might actually like one.*

You: I found this one I love! And I actually, also really like the second one you sent me. Can you draft those two for me? Or are they outside of the package? If they are, let’s try the concept I found and we’ll work from there.

Designer: *Drafts both for you in good faith* But the below was picked.

You: YESS! That’s it. *Sends them slight tweaks*

And the rest is history.


- A simple thank you, does wonders!

- Sometimes unique concepts are risky and don’t execute well and you revert back to what’s been done before. Don’t take it hard if your concept doesn’t work on the first go. Work it out with your designer. That’s what you’re paying them for, isn’t it?

- Instead of using words like ‘hate’ or ‘dislike’ you can avoid these by saying, “I don’t think this is it yet,” or, “I don’t think this concept came out as well as I thought it would,” or even, “I’m not keen on...”

- If you still don’t like the concepts, do research of your own. Sometimes, your mind can’t place what it likes until you find something you want yourself. Of course, you can still tell your designer to keep looking, but if the project is on a tight schedule definitely work as a team with this, and have them come up with more ideas, while you look for your own as well. There’s no harm in a little collaboration. The results are always the most powerful.

- Sometimes, being nice about the changes gives you freebies you don’t expect. Like the designer might end up giving you an extra draft option when it’s not included in the package. As full-time creatives, we have over 30+ emails telling us the clients don’t like this, that, etc. So, your single ‘Thank you’, and constructive feedback like the above and the vibe that you’d like to work it out. Really stands out from the 30+ emails. We’re just grateful sometimes to be seen as human. Haha. Now, I’m not sure if all creatives will give you freebies as we do. But no harm in being nice, is there?

What if you really told them you hated the artwork?

Let’s rewrite the minor changes scenario into a more hostile one.

Scenario: You’re getting a rock star cover done for your latest book by a book cover designer and you’ve given them a sexy couple image to work with. They send you something where you dislike a lot of things. What do you say?

What they gave you: A cover with the same couple but with a mix of old school fonts, with more pinks and yellows. And a plain background.

What [not] to say: I hate it. The pink is too jarring and hurts my eyes. The serif font you used is too old school. I absolutely hate yellow. This cover doesn’t look rockstar enough.

Analysis #1: The designer doesn’t take it personally and trudges on to give you the best they could.

- You know all the bad reviews of your book you avoid reading? Unfortunately, we don’t have the choice to ‘ignore’ the bad reviews. We have to read on and really try as much as possible not to take the negativity personally but ask questions instead.

- The creative will think: Hmm, okay. So she doesn’t like it. And automatically goes into problem-solving mode. Should I change all these things she didn’t like? Or clarify what she wants? Because these are too open-ended! Let’s dissect

# The pink is too jarring. Translates to: Do I soften the pink? Or change it entirely?

# The serif font is too old school. Translates to: Do I try a modern font? A sans-serif? Or something else entirely?

# She doesn’t like yellow. Translates to: But what color does she like that I can use? What if I use pink for the text instead, would she like it? How about green? Omg, I really want to impress her on the second round but I’m unsure what to change.

# The cover isn't rock star enough. Translates to: Okay, what can we do to make it ‘rock star’ enough. Changing overall cover? Changing font? Adding a rock star background?

- The creative will either clarify with you or go ahead and make the changes on what they deciphered from your email.

If they decided to clarify, they would have said: I’m so sorry you hate it! I wanted to clarify our changes. Did you mean one of the following?

1. For the pink background, did you mean for us to soften the pink, or change the color completely? If we change it completely, what would you like us to change the color to?

2. For the font, any particular font preference you had in mind for this?

3. For the yellow, do you want to change this to a different color? What color do you like? Or if you’d like we can pick one for you, just let us know what colors you’d like to avoid entirely.

4. For the Rockstar vibe, any particular additions to the cover to help with this? Did you want us to add flashing lights as an overlay? Add in a crowd at the bottom of the cover? Any preference?

If they went ahead with the guessing game, they would have given you something like this:

Okay! So that’s not too bad. But you would still ask them to change the pink out and the title font. So, that would have saved you an extra day of changes (depending on your time-zone difference) if you approached it the positive way.

Analysis #2: The designer takes it personally and can’t take criticism.

Negative feedback and criticism are hard to take but all creatives know it’s part of the job and to fight fire with fire shouldn’t be the way to do it. Whether it’s because of their ego or their crushed self-esteem, a negative email shouldn’t be replied to with another one. This is a service-client relationship. We always have to try to make the client happy. Now, if the client is particularly nasty or vice versa, then perhaps, you and the designer aren’t a creative match.

We’re not saying to halt the criticism.

Just word it differently. And I promise you, the results will save you time, and money!

Thanks for reading!



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