Simple Tips for Giving Quality Design Feedback

Giving feedback is hard. Figuring out how to analyze what you’re looking at, making observations and drawing conclusions, then clearly communicating what’s working and what’s not, all while putting yourself in the shoes of the target audience, takes practice.

We all could work at becoming better listeners, communicators, and taking away our own personal bias. Ideally, feedback sessions should be more of a discussion that aims to reveal opportunities, rather than criticism and the creation of a to do list.

Something you may not know is that most designers actually love getting feedback. We can’t read minds so we crave feedback that helps us understand how our audience may see things and how we can improve the product.

Below are some simple tips for both teams and clients on how to improve the quality of feedback you provide. In turn, your designer can happily return to work with clarity surrounding what issues need to be addressed.

Working with a team

State the good with the bad

During critiques, it’s pretty easy to point out what’s not working, but it’s important to mention what actually is working as well. Capturing both the good and the bad helps create a more balanced critique and highlights areas of a design that should be retained. Knowing what IS working helps the designer to better understand the direction they should continue in. Additionally, we don’t want to make changes that might harm parts of a design that are currently working well.

Don’t critique selfishly

When reviewing a mockup, it’s pretty natural to first think about how this will affect your job alone. For example, as a developer, you’re going to want to analyze how much effort or time it will take to implement a feature. This is actually quite smart and ensures that the team isn’t creeping outside of the scope of a project. However, as long as the design is within scope, easy or difficult should not be the first reaction. Try and break this habit. Before immediately developing an aversion to something, focus on the goal of the feature. Is it accomplishing what users need and will they understand it? Does it align with both the audience and client’s goals? Is there a better solution?

When working on a team, it’s everyone’s responsibility to think critically about the product as a whole, as opposed to just thinking about how something will affect your individual role. This includes thinking about how both the audience and client’s needs are being met, keeping costs low for the client, and ensuring unnecessary complexity isn’t introduced into the code base to guarantee long-term maintainability.

Respect

In addition to avoiding selfish decisions, team members should respect each other’s roles and expertise in the project. It’s important to listen to one another’s concerns and play off of the individual strengths of each team member when making decisions. Collaboration is necessary for success.

Stay focused on the user and the goals of the product

Everyone has opinions, but it’s worth checking in and making sure your suggestions are in the best interest of the audience–not your personal aesthetic. Do you want to get rid of yellow because you hate yellow or because it doesn’t resonate with the target audience?

More generally speaking, with every design critique, keep in mind the question of, “Does this align with the product goals?” Try to avoid saying, “I love it” or “I hate it.“ This doesn’t give the designer any direction on how to move forward. Instead, use specific examples of where and what the problem is and why it is or isn’t working.

As a side note: It’s always nice for a designer to hear that you understand where they’re coming from (if you do), but… then adding something like, “I’m not sure this is truly achieving the goal because…”

Stating problems might be more beneficial than solutions

Suggesting solutions to problems is always welcome as long as those suggestions aren’t forced. It’s a designer’s job to explore solutions to the problem. When you tell a designer exactly what to do, you unknowingly limit creativity. For example, making the font smaller may make the page feel less busy, but so might adding some padding, reworking the copy, or adjusting the layout. Pointing out opportunities for change and areas in need of improvement allows for the freedom to explore various solutions.

Working with clients

When working with a client, it’s good to understand that they may not be used to giving feedback or even know how or where to start. Maybe this is their first rodeo in creating an app, design or website. Because of this, it’s helpful for a team to explain how they work, so the client feels more connected to the process.

There’s typically a lot of moving parts and things to look at when viewing a mockup. Some parts may be completely fleshed out while others are still in progress or have dummy copy. This can be overwhelming and confusing for clients, and creates a lack of focus, leading to unproductive feedback sessions and undesirable outcomes.

As a designer who is presenting work, it’s crucial to preface a feedback session with what exactly should be critiqued as well as the goals of the meeting. For example, you may show a mockup that is strictly a wireframe with finalized copy that you’d like feedback on. If this isn’t made clear, the client may focus on fonts, lack of color, or other aesthetics that aren’t relevant to the copy.

Stay tuned for a future post about how to successfully present your work and receive feedback you want.

Advice for clients

Try not to micro or macro manage

As a team, we understand how important products are to our clients, and believe us, we care just as much about building amazing things and making your product successful. Remember, you hired a team of expert designers and developers for a reason. If we aren’t given an opportunity to discuss and recommend the best options for you, you’re probably not getting the best product.

On the other hand, if you agree with everything we do and never have feedback, it makes us feel like we’re cheating. We know you have an opinion; we’d like to hear it and make sure we’re satisfying the company goals as well as those of the audience. Don’t be afraid to give feedback, even if you’re one of those people who claim “I’m not an artsy type” or “I don’t have an eye for these things.” When giving feedback, it’s great if you don’t know much about design; the end users likely aren’t designers either. That’s why your feedback is crucial.

Be specific and include the “why”

Try to avoid vague statements that might difficult for a designer to interpret. For example, “Make it pop more” could mean a variety of things to different people. Instead analyze what it is that you’d like to see more or less of. For example, “I’d like more bright colors to be used in the background”. Be specific about the problem, rather than the solution. Designers are problem solvers. By clearly stating the problem, the designer will have time to try various solutions to get it right.

Identify specific areas of a design and explain why something is or isn’t working. Not explaining the “why” or the reasoning behind a declared problem could just lead to more problems. For example, if you don’t like brown because it feels too earthy for the product, the designer may replace it with green, and then you’re in the same predicament.

Ask questions

If you’re confused about something you see and the designer didn’t explain it, ask for clarification! Every decision has (hopefully) been carefully thought through and the designer should be happy to walk you through the logic.

Asking questions is also a great opportunity to correct misunderstandings. If the designer made the colors masculine because they thought most of your users were male, and it turns out most of your users are actually female, it makes sense to correct them and rethink that decision.

Some good questions might sound like:

By creating an environment of honesty, professionalism, and fun from the start, you’re sure to have some great feedback sessions no matter who you’re working with. Keeping the audience in mind is key and remember to always state the “why.”

What do you think?

Try some of these tips in your next critique and let us know how it goes! Have any other great tips for giving quality feedback? Tweet ‘em at me: @megpopovic

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