Giving and getting design feedback (as with any artistic feedback) is no easy feat. Unsurprisingly, in discussions about best design practices, it’s a topic that consistently rears its head. And while some designers loathe and avoid it, others live for it. The fact is, while the majority of designers, leads, product managers, and stakeholders genuinely want to improve upon quality of work, propel things forward, and instill team confidence, there are effective and less effective ways of accomplishing this. Truly constructive feedback is critical to the entire design process, but unfortunately, that tends to be easier said than done—‘cause, you know, we’re all human.
Here are 6 tips to help you deliver feedback that you personally would feel good about receiving (hint: that’s one way of telling how effective it’ll be!):
1. Be objective rather than subjective
Although everyone has instinctive responses to a given design, do your best to leave personal likes and dislikes out of the equation. For the purpose of achieving your goals more effectively, instead observe how the design measures up to said projects goals and base your feedback on that. This way, you champion the success of the project over your opinion, your feedback reflects this, and many designers will respond better as a result.
2. Give feedback regularly
In order to retain your top talent, do prioritize giving feedback regularly. While 1-on-1 meetings are well-suited to sharing feedback on work behavior, design feedback should have its own regular time and space: during critiques and/or retrospectives. Simply by carving out regular and specific time slots for design feedback, you normalize and positivize the act of giving it. Additionally, try to give feedback in a timely fashion, especially where deadlines are concerned.
3. Don’t be afraid to be specific
It’s no secret that ambiguous feedback is altogether frustrating. Why not be as clear as possible then? Bullet points are great—ideally one for every item that needs to be addressed. This is far more effective and desirable and comprehensible than writing a paragraph-based one-way conversation on every change that needs to be made. Yuck. Also: visuals in the form of screenshots can further clarify your comments!
4. Don’t overwhelm
Maybe you see a dozen things wrong with a design. The thing is, in design, as in personal relationships, receiving criticism after criticism leaves one feeling wounded and demotivated, regardless of the intentions of the critic. This can make it difficult to retain any real lessons. If at all possible, share one piece of feedback at a time, and take the time needed to properly explain said feedback so that your designer can actually let it sink in, and/or even discuss it with you.
5. Don’t forego positive feedback
This can’t be stressed enough. Many of us forget that the purpose of feedback is not only to critique, but also to recognize, encourage, and give praise. Culture Amp recommends thinking of feedback in terms of “reinforcing” or “redirecting,” as opposed to positive vs. negative, the former indicating that a certain positive behavior should be kept up, and the latter being a helpful nudge in another (clearly defined and explained) direction.
6. Critique the design—not the designer
This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. When giving feedback, we sometimes try to expand on what we’re saying in misguided ways, such as looking to a designer’s personality traits or ways of thinking. Stick to what the design itself needs or doesn’t, and ask for their thoughts on your thoughts. This way, you avoid making anyone feel singled out or even attacked.
Always ask yourself if your feedback is going to help the designer improve—that’s the point, right?. It’s okay to shake your head at something, but when doing so, be sure to suggest an alternative. It is art, after all. Ask questions to learn more about your designer’s thinking. And above all, do it right: no off-the-cuff comments as you walk on by. Remember: your work relationships are your most important asset. The rest flows from there.