Constructive Feedback – How to Critique Design

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So today, we’re going to look at how you can give feedback to a designer while still maintaining a constructive, positive working relationship. Remember that feedback is a two-way street – designers can help by guiding managers and leaders to where they want them to focus on, but managers can also do their bit to make sure the contribution made by the designers is valued.

A Note About Designers

Designers are a special breed. They have creative sensibilities, and often throw themselves wholeheartedly into a project. When you say hurtful things about the work, it’s difficult not to take it personally. We are often proud of our work, and when a project is going well it’s the best thing in the world. If critique is unintentionally harsh, they may shy away from putting their creative genius to work, and submit passable work in the knowledge that their own ideas have all been rejected.

And I get to say this, because I’m a designer. I’ve been hurt by comments in the past. I will be hurt by comments in future. I throw myself wholeheartedly into a project, and when things don’t go well I take it personally. Because there’s nothing better than delivering fantastic work that I can be proud of, and nothing worse than delivering passable designs knowing that all of my own ideas have been shot down.


How To Give Design Feedback

I’ve written before about how designers can take it upon themselves to become better communicators and get the feedback they need. Working in a team is all about give and take. It’s up to us to educate managers and team leads how to give feedback.

1. Keep it Positive

Try to point out what works, as well as what doesn’t work.

You want the designer to improve the work, not remove their creativity from the process. A skilled manager or leader will be able to discuss the changes that need to happen without sounding negative.

It’s important that the designer not detach themselves and their creativity from a project. It’s in your best interests to keep them involved. For this reason, it is essential that the conversation remain positive.

feedback

If you’re in a bad mood, reschedule the meeting. And speaking of meetings, I advise you also set up a meeting room.

2. Formalise

So this is one that I’ve just realised recently. With start-ups, casual is the name of the game. People wear flip-flops to work, have tiki bars in the open plan work space, and casually stop by desks to solve problems in a collaborative environment.

I have, however, needed to step up and formalise a few things when casual doesn’t cut it. This includes a proper feedback loop. Set aside time to discuss the designs, and book a room with a screen. This will mean the designer is not working on something completely different. It will also mean that he or she will be in the right headspace to discuss and defend the design, and take notes.

There are few things more demotivating than having someone stand over your shoulder directing pixels around the screen. That’s why this gif resonates with us.

3. Ask Questions

Asking questions about the design is a nice middle-ground. It opens the discussion and invites the designer to support their decisions with research, design principles and usability heuristics. They have trained for years, and likely have years of experience, and they are using that to inform the solution they are presenting you.

A good designer will happily discuss the changes with you.

4. It’s About What Works

Too often, discussion can fall into what someone likes, versus what they don’t like. Not everyone is a designer, but everyone has an opinion about what they see. Try to avoid bringing your opinion to the table. Instead, focus on what works.

What exactly is the problem you are trying to solve? Does this solve that problem?

Focus on asking yourself these questions, and it will make everything much easier for everyone.

5. Avoid Email Chains

Something I’ve noticed in the past is designers who circulate emails with their work. Avoid this if at all possible, because while it can reach a larger number of people, it doesn’t allow you to filter what is meaningful with what is just an off-the-cuff remark.

If you’re just looking for general comments, then it’s fine to show your Invision files to a large group. If you’re looking for specific technical feasibility confirmation, or to know if you’re fulfilling the customer requirements, actually having a conversation with the key people in your organisation is a thousand times more productive.

6. (bonus point) Watch Your Language

I didn’t mean to write 6 points, but I’ve actually heard people say “this looks weird” (and much worse) in feedback rounds. This sort of comment is vague, unhelpful and insulting.

It should go without saying, but keep your choice of words professional and constructive. Avoid humiliating the designer by using negative words to describe their work.


 

That’s it. Those are my points on how to give better design feedback.

Your designer will thank you for it. If you have encountered any other ways to improve the feedback process, as always I’m on twitter and would love to hear from you.

And sorry that it’s been a few weeks since my last blog post. Something suddenly came up.

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