Just like we’re always iterating on our product work, we’re also always iterating on how our company works. We consider our company a product too. When you begin to think of your company like a product, you can begin to improve it in entirely new ways.
Founder and CEO, Basecamp
An organization is only as good as its processes. Many organizations have systems to guide the feedback process. But as a designer, it can be hard to tell if you’re getting the kind of feedback you need to keep a project moving. In this article, we’ll cover design feedback, how to give design feedback, and how to create a culture of design feedback.
What is design feedback?
Design feedback opens the door for team members, clients, and stakeholders to review and analyze a design idea. It’s a crucial part of the design process because it lets you know what’s working, what’s not working, and how things can be improved.
Good feedback makes you a better creative because it helps you learn from your experiences as you hone your craft. It can also help you identify pitfalls of a design solution and give you a more focused sense of direction. When you’re aware of how to optimize your product early on, it results in a better experience for your users.
Good design feedback is a product of good collaboration. But it’s not enough to get people together in a room or on a Slack channel and ask for feedback. It’s an intentional and thoughtful process that requires that your team members, clients, and stakeholders have a basic working knowledge of how to review and critique creative solutions.
How to give design feedback
Every designer can recount a time when they left a review session more confused than when they went in. Whether the feedback was too subjective or frustratingly vague, at the end of the day it wasn’t actionable or insightful enough to help you improve your idea.
The problem isn’t that your colleagues can’t give good feedback. They just don’t know how to give good design feedback… yet. With a little bit of guidance, you can receive (and give) the kind of feedback that moves your projects forward.
How to effectively critique designs
Keep the project goal in mind.
Every project has a goal your team is trying to achieve. Instead of simply reacting to a design solution, frame your critique within the parameters of the project goal.
Example of bad feedback: You should make the buttons blue.
Example of good feedback: The button colors seem a little too bright, and I’m afraid they might be mentally taxing for our users. How can we address this to make their experience a little more seamless?
Vague feedback is confusing and doesn’t propel a project in the right direction. Instead, it breeds miscommunication. Before you know it, the next product iteration still doesn’t come close to what you want. Remember that no one can read your mind. The more specific you can be while giving feedback, the better.
Example of bad feedback: I like this. or I don’t like this.
Example of good feedback: The slow loading time is frustrating and might increase the chances of our users opting out early. How can we improve this experience?
Say exactly what you mean. Having a hard time articulating your thoughts? Use visual examples from existing designs or sketch something and show designers what you’re trying to say.
Example of bad feedback: Make this pop.
Example of good feedback: The menu design doesn’t stand out from the rest of the page. Can you provide more color, font, and size options?
Who should give design feedback
The success of design feedback depends on who’s in the room (physically and/or digitally). Too many unnecessary people is a surefire way to waste everyone’s time.
When setting up design reviews, make sure you only invite people who absolutely need to be there. As simple as it sounds, it can help to go through your list and ask yourself if every person is relevant to your project.
That list could change depending on how far the project has progressed. For example, an internal creative review would only involve the creatives that directly work on the project, a creative director, and a project manager. A client review would include the people included in the internal creative review plus the client and leadership team members.
Tip: Having one to two members of the client and leadership teams at a design review to represent the client’s viewpoint goes a long way to prevent long and wasteful meetings.
How to create a culture of design feedback
Basecamp CEO and founder Jason Fried suggests we change how we see design reviews so we can get more out of them. So instead of seeing them as critiques, we need to see them as problem-solving sessions. It’s a simple perspective that makes a big impact, transforming design feedback from person giving feedback vs. person receiving feedback to a collaborative group effort to find the best solution possible.
Asking for feedback
The problem with design feedback can be two-fold:
- You need to know how to give constructive feedback, and
- You need to know how to ask for feedback.
It’s important to set expectations around what you’re looking for: Ask the right questions, ask for feedback often, and give people enough time to process your ideas. It can also help to add some structure to the design feedback process so that you and your clients both know what you want to get out of it.
Schedule design reviews.
It’s difficult to get thoughtful feedback if it’s not a priority for your organization or team. Scheduling review sessions gives everyone time and space to really think through designs. And it lets people know that design feedback is an important part of your process.
How often you schedule review sessions depends on the project and its scope; availability of your team and clients; and the type of approvals your organization requires. Keep in mind that reviews should propel the project and creative process forward. They should be an asset, not a hindrance. If they’re the latter, heed the next tip.
Create a design feedback checklist.
Having an accessible design feedback checklist that educates people on how to give helpful design feedback will improve the quality of your review sessions.
This checklist should include the tips listed here, as well as guidelines specific to the way your organization likes to collaborate. It might be helpful for your creative team to sit down together and discuss what good feedback looks like to them, and the expectations for review meetings.
Talk through the design feedback process with employees and clients.
You don’t want to just throw a checklist at team members and clients and then never talk about it. Take the time to talk through the process with the people involved. For many organizations, this talk is a part of both the new employee onboarding process and the new client onboarding process.
When it comes to existing client relationships, a design lead or account lead can set up time to talk with stakeholders about upcoming changes to the design feedback process. This way, everyone’s on the same page.
To ensure feedback is aligned with project goals, you can even make different checklists for different types of projects (i.e.: product launches vs. feature updates). Include a design feedback checklist in every brief and/or client-facing deck as a way to keep review meetings focused.
Use tools that encourage feedback.
With InVision, you and your entire team can give feedback before design reviews. This way, you can use the meeting to focus on finding solutions to the problems you already identified.
Transform your designs into clickable interfaces that you can present in person or via screen sharing using Prototype. Encourage team members to leave comments directly on your design so you know exactly what they’re critiquing. With comments organized by threads, you can keep track of every helpful insight.
A productive, effective loop
In the end, feedback is often much more nuanced that people think—especially those giving it. But with proper explanation and a little guidance, the entire process can become more collaborative than combative, and result in a thoughtful, well-rounded product.