Everyone's an Art Critic


When the client wants  a LITTLE change... Comic by Karen Strum

Being an artist requires learning how to take a punch in the ego. Dealing with criticism and revisions is never easy but there are a few strategies that can make it more palatable. The first step is having a defined creative process that you follow that allows for client input. I'll describe my methodology and following this article is a diagram depicting my easy 3 Step Perfect Layout Process for getting painless client approvals. The second step involves good communication skills and a positive mind set.

Strategies for Revisions

As an artist, you need to realize that clients will ask for revisions. Being able to offer input during the design process is something they thoroughly enjoy and should be considered part of the experience. Obviously, you can't make unlimited revisions unless you are being paid by the hour. For clients that do pay hourly, you might consider setting up a retainer for steady work. Most clients, however, will request a flat rate. For these clients, you need a defined process for input so that projects don't get wildly out of control.

Based on 20 years of experience, I can tell you the typical design project takes three rounds of revisions.

  1. During the first round I give them three design concepts sketched out. The first is their client brief exactly. The second is your preferred solution and the third is a compromise between the two.
  2. Clients never choose one concept and say “let's do it”. It simply doesn't happen. During the second round, clients typically pick and choose elements from each of the three concepts and I create a new layout of the combined design elements. Never use design elements that you won't ultimately be happy with, because history shows that clients are always drawn to these.
  3. 3. When clients see Round #2, they are typically pretty happy. There are usually only a few minor tweaks that need to be made for the final layout.
As you can imagine, offering a design process like this can be time consuming. Not every client has a budget that will allow for it. I tend to shy away from clients with restrictive budgets, simply because I worry I won't be able to make them happy. If I can't offer three initial layouts, it is hard to limit the design process to three rounds of changes. When projects go awry, it is typically because the client's budget required shortcuts.

Getting Feedback

Not every client is going to have good communication skills and some of the feedback you get may rub you the wrong way. It may be that your client is simply blunt, but if you are like me and have a sensitive side, just hearing that something you worked hard on isn't perfect, hurts. Here are a few of my tips for dealing with criticism that have helped me retain difficult clients over the years:


  • Listen to what is actually being said, not how they are saying it.
  • Assume your critic has good intentions.
  • Don't get defensive and make unnecessary excuses.
  • Try not to take criticism personally.
  • Always say “Thank You”.

If you decide to use my design process, I have a little advice on how to present it. Make three rounds of changes sound positive. Don't let them feel like you “quit” after the third round. I've put the process in a nice PowerPoint before with flow charts when pitching my services to a client and they loved it. It actually made me look very organized. And, by using my feedback tips, that will make you sound professional.

Easy 3 Step Perfect Layout Process by Karen Strum


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About the Author: Karen Strum is a Tampa Bay illustrator available for freelance projects. A unique cast of characters in her style can be designed for use in advertisements and materials for which you want something extra special. Karen's cartoons use retro imagery and vintage color palettes that add charm to every image she creates whether it is a comic, logo, diagram, book cover, or concept image. [Send an Email]


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