Six tips for giving design feedback

Design that occurs in a vacuum is usually called “art.”

Design that has its goal the desire to help users solve problems does not happen in a vacuum. We need to learn how to give (and receive) feedback from peers, clients and bosses.

Whether you aspire to the manager track or want to be a productive member of a design team, you’ll need to get comfortable giving feedback. The rules for providing effective feedback for a design parallel those for giving feedback on employee performance.

If you’re the person asking for feedback, remember to provide context:

  • Target audience
  • Problem the design is trying to solve
  • What is it that you want visitors to do after seeing the site (or product)?
  • What emotion is the design trying to invoke?
  • What brand-related restrictions are there (color, logo, etc).

Often writers suggest that critiques include both positive feedback and constructive criticism. Regardless of the tenor of the feedback, follow these tips to become more effective at delivering feedback.

1. Strike the word “like” from your feedback dictionary

Too often, feedback takes the form of “I really like xyz” or “I like how you did abc.” And then ends there. We’ll get into the things that make feedback effective, but the number one tip is to avoid “like” … well, like the plague.

The design isn’t “all about you.” It’s about how well the design helps meet business goals.

Ineffective feedback: I don’t like that typeface.
Effective feedback: Our text needs to be very readable. What readability testing have we done on this type choice? Do we know how our audience responds to it emotionally?

2. Be specific

What works or does not work, in the context of audience/brand/tasks? Analysis should rest on these fundamentals and then specifically call out effectiveness.

Ineffective feedback: The design is bland.
Effective feedback: Our primary audience is fashion-conscious college students and recent college graduates. Let’s make sure our color choice reflect this audience. A bit more research is needed to make sure we connect with our audience.

3. Give examples

Use the appropriate design lingo if you know it (such as calls to action or accordions). And then share an example from a website that executes the “thing” in a way that you think is effective — and explain why it’s effective.

Ineffective feedback: I don’t think this looks “bold” or “trendy” — two of the adjectives we used to describe this project.
Effective feedback: In our design brief, we picked “bold” and “trendy” as adjectives used to describe this project. Here are some examples of sites that I think hit the mark <insert links>. What can we do to incorporate this feeling into our design?

4. Use evidence, not opinion

Opinions are like air, they are everywhere. Evidence, on the other hand, moves the conversation away from opinion and towards “facts.” Draw on best practices, user studies, books … in rhetoric, we call this structuring a good argument.

Ineffective feedback: I don’t like the spacing between the subheads and text.
Effective feedback: Gestalt design principles should guide our choice of leading between subheads and the text that follows them. We need to have these items appear closer together so that they look like a visual unit.

5. Avoid offering a critique that is a disguised solution.

We call this “prescriptive feedback” which means that rather than focusing on how a design fails to help achieve a business goal, the feedback suggests a solution.

Ineffective feedback: Can you move that button up and to the right? And make it bigger?
Effective feedback: I’m worried that the call to action is hidden and too small. What can we do to make it more prominent?

6. Ask questions!

Feedback isn’t just about sharing your opinion, especially when it is taking place within a design team.

Ineffective feedback: *crickets*
Effective feedback: I’m used to seeing mobile sites with the menu in the upper left of the screen. Can you help me understand why this design places the menu in the bottom right?

Bonus tip:

What personal pronoun is missing from the above “effective feedback” examples?

That’s right: you.

Using “you” makes the feedback personal, and effective design feedback should not be personal. It also puts the recipient on the defensive. Just say no!

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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