Giving and Receiving Design Feedback

December 16, 2020
Giving and Receiving Design Feedback

Feedback can be one of the hardest skills to master as a designer. It can be hard to separate yourself from your designs, especially if you have been working on them for a long time. When it comes time for them to be critiqued it can be like watching someone tear apart your life’s work (or at least the last few weeks or months of work).

This article aims to help those giving feedback to designers, do it in a more useful constructive way to benefit from your design collaboration, and also outlines how designers can ensure they get the most out of these feedback sessions.

Giving Design Feedback

There are a few types of people that may have to give design feedback; clients, developers, internal stakeholders, product managers and of course other designers. Each person will have different requirements when giving feedback to designers so this article will outline a few ways to make it a bit easier on both parties.

As A Client

As a client (or internal stakeholder) you will be tasked at some point with reviewing and critiquing a design solution that has been presented to you. These tips will help you provide your designer with the most useful feedback which they can then get to implementing!

Ensure it meets requirements

One of the first things you should do when giving design feedback is to ask yourself ‘does this meet my requirements?’ This allows you to take a step back from the details of the design, which you can get sucked in to, and look at the bigger picture. Some good things to ask are: Does it contain all the information I want it too? Does it convey the right feeling to the end-user? Is it using the right branding? These high-level questions can help you cover off some basic initial feedback before diving into other more detail orientated feedback.

Be clear and specific

Giving feedback on designs is an essential part of design collaboration and can be difficult if you’re not used to vocalising more nuanced opinions. Phrases like ‘make it pop’ or ‘I don’t like it’ aren’t useful to designers as they don’t convey what it is you don’t like about the current design. (If you want more examples there are entire websites dedicated to bad client feedback on designs like the Designers Humor Twitter). You need to be constructive, clear and descriptive. What is it you don’t like about the design? The colour, layout, typography? Then what is it about that facet you don’t like? Is the font too compact? Is it difficult to read or maybe you find it cluttered? The more specific you can be the more useful the feedback will be.

Try to group your feedback into a page at a time, this makes it easy to implement. If there is one change that crosses multiple pages simply add ‘throughout design’ to the end of your feedback and your designer will know to update every instance.

Listen to your designer

You may find there are some points you get push back on from the designer or team. When this happens try to take on board what they are saying. It can be a common misconception design is mostly opinions and styles, and therefore those things are only styled a certain way because the designer likes it that way. However this isn’t true, a lot of design is based on empirical research and testing. A lot of larger companies run a/b tests to check one design solution against another. Because of this, you will see a lot of similarities across the web in forms, layouts and interactions. This isn’t just because designers all like the same style but because these things have been tested with millions of people.

So if your designer suggests something you aren’t entirely on board with - rather than saying no - ask them why they want to do it that way. You may learn that it will increase readability, or that certain colours have been shown to have specific effects on users.

Be prompt

Though it might seem like things can be changed easily in designs, it’s good to remember that (depending on the request) last-minute changes affect not only design but also development. When you come to a designer after something has been signed off with a last-minute change it can often mean a redesign of something that affects the entire product in ways you may not have considered. This in turn affects timelines for development.

These delays have a trickle-down effect. So make sure, before you sign off on a design, that you have shown it to all stakeholders you need to and that you’ve received sign off from them. You may also need to remind other stakeholders that once it’s signed off it will cost time (and therefore money) to change it.

It can feel overwhelming to give feedback to your designer but remember the majority of changes are small and easy to implement. Work with your designer and if necessary get them to walk you through how they like to receive feedback. A good working relationship with your designer can be the difference between an enjoyable process and a stressful one.

As A Designer

If you work in a team of designers you will likely have some sort of feedback session where you each show what you have been working on to get feedback. This section will give some guidance on the best way to provide feedback to your other team members.

Understand the context before giving feedback

It can be easy to pass judgement on a design decision when you don’t know the context of a decision. If you don’t understand the problems the other designer is trying to solve, how can you give useful feedback? If you’re uncertain, ask about why something was done a certain way before providing your feedback. You may find out that it had to be done that way due to development constraints or client feedback. Saving you the effort of giving the feedback in the first place!

Suggest potential solutions

A good rule of thumb is if you can’t suggest of a better way or at least a direction, then it’s best to not say anything at all. For criticism to be constructive it has to have a direction, a clear call to what needs to be changed and why. If you must give feedback without direction then keep it objective, try to avoid using phrases like ‘I don’t like how you’ve done this’. These can be taken to heart and undermine the relationship you have with the designer.

Make sure all feedback isn’t negative

It can sometimes feel easier to point out things you don’t like, than things you do. But when giving feedback make sure you praise others for the things they have done well. This might seem a bit fluffy to you but for some designers (especially junior designers) it can be the difference between a good day and a bad day.

Receiving Design Feedback

There are some things you can do as a designer to make the feedback process go as smoothly as possible.

Specify what you are asking for feedback on

To make sure the person giving feedback stays on track and concentrates on the feature, page or functionality you require feedback on, you need to specify specifically what they should be looking at. You may even go so far as to only send them the individual screens you need feedback on rather than full prototypes for them to click around in and get lost.

Outline how you would like to receive the feedback

Whether that be via external products, comments on pdfs, email summaries or slack messages. Make sure the person giving feedback knows what medium they should provide it on.

Give people a timeframe

If you are receiving feedback a-synchronously, be sure to let the people giving feedback know when you need it by. Be it a week or a few days, either way, a good process needs to be put in place and ensure they know that feedback given after the deadline may not be implemented.

Know what type of feedback to expect

Different people will give feedback based on different aspects of your design. Clients may comment on more high-level things such as brand or ‘feeling’ and may not be as used to giving design feedback as others. Developers will be looking at functionality and feasibility, they may provide feedback that is more of a functionality change rather than a specific design element. Knowing what type of feedback to expect can prepare you for the types of changes that may be coming your way.

Be prepared to explain your choices

As a designer, you must always be prepared to explain why you have done something the way you have. It could be a client that wants to do it a different way and you have to explain why you have chosen to style something the way you have. Or it could be a developer pushing back on a piece of functionality and you will need to provide reasons and examples of why that specific feature should be developed.

You need to be able to justify your design solutions, things like UX best practices, pointing to industry leaders and conducting research and testing are great ways to provide objective support to your decisions and make them harder to argue with.

Design feedback can be one of the hardest areas of being a designer. But with these tips, you can hopefully make the process run a bit more smooth. And if you have a client that you’re finding it hard to get constructive feedback from you can always send them this post to nudge them in the right direction!