Giving Better Design Feedback

Designers put their heart and soul on the line to be judged daily. It can be emotionally exhausting. I know this because it’s the very reason I stopped doing design for money and became a programmer. It’s the reason Lance and I teamed up eight years ago—no longer having to struggle through trying to create designs that I was happy with was a huge relief for me.

So, having experience as a designer, you think I’d be a master when it comes to giving design feedback. Actually, I kinda suck. Even though I don’t practice design much, I still have some designer in me, which means I have strong opinions about design. When I do, my analytical brain tends to leave out all personal and emotional aspects of design and I tend to to jump straight into critique. Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, this can be like throwing gasoline on a fire.

I feel I owe it to my designer comrades of present (hi Lance) and future to get better at giving great feedback, so I went on a little safari and came up with a list of tips to keep in mind.

Confirm the goals for the design and scope of critique

Before I start giving any feedback, I should know any and all details about what the design is trying to achieve. If the designer has not given this information to me already, I should ask for it. For example, if I’m looking at a landing page for a software product, with a hero and some different sections about features, testimonials, etc, I would want to know that the overall goal of the design is to get a customer to sign up. Knowing that, I can focus my feedback on how the design meets that goal.

I also should know what exactly I should be providing feedback on. Is it the whole thing? Just a certain section? Colors? Just layout? If I’m shown an early rough version of a design, there will be many things that don’t look right. By knowing what exactly feedback is needed on, I can ignore the work in progress areas until they’re ready.

Start with positive feedback

Gut reactions and first impressions are important, and I usually know right away if I love a design or not. But the designer has spent hours, even days, creating what I’m looking at. It’s natural for me to start by finding things that I think are wrong with the design. By focusing on the positives first, I will show respect and appreciation for the time and effort that has already been put into the work. I may also learn something about the designer’s intention that may change my opinion. This also softens the critique.

Never prescribe solutions. Rather, describe experiences.

Don’t say “make this button red,” or “make that image smaller.” Empower the designer to solve a problem. Instead, say “it took me a minute to realize where the button was” or “I had a hard time seeing the text next to this image.”

The designer has personal opinions too about the design that he’s spent hours and hours thinking through—that’s what I’m looking at. My personal opinions on aesthetic are not as important as how the design holds up against the established goals for the design.

Be empathetic

Designers put themselves on the line daily to be judged, and judged they will be, by me, by clients, by the world. I should keep this in mind as I poke and prod. The worst thing I can do is completely kill the creative juices by being harsh or insensitive. Do that, and the design may never get back on track. Don’t beat around the bush or hold back, just be mindful and nice. Don’t be so serious. Be light and playful.

End with a compliment

This is the third step in what is hilariously referred to as the “shit sandwich.” Start with a complement, throw in the critique, end with another compliment. It may sound silly, but apparently this works.

What about you? What do you do to give awesome design feedback? Let me know in the comments below.

Further reading:

comments powered by Disqus