Most designers know the feeling of walking into a presentation feeling confident and expecting sign off on their work, only to walk away with a mountain of edits. Even worse is the realization that we missed the mark and will need go back to the drawing board.
But the truth is critical feedback is a fundamental step in creating good design. The ability to give effective feedback and openly receive it in order to improve is a vital skill for designers. In fact, actively seeking and learning from feedback is the most effective way to grow as a designer.
The following tips will help to ensure we’re getting the most out of the feedback we’re provided, and that feedback we are giving is as effective as possible.
Receiving Critical Feedback
All feedback, even feedback that we don’t agree with, is an opportunity to see our work from a different perspective.
Good design isn’t art, it’s a solution that effectively and efficiently solves a business problem. And to solve the problem, a designer needs feedback early and often. Without feedback, there’s no way to know you’re heading in the right direction.
Seeking feedback early, even if the design is still in progress, is the best way to ensure we’re on track and can anticipate questions and concerns from our team and stakeholders later on.
The first thing we must remember is to be open to different perspectives. Design isn’t about self-expression—it’s about solving problems and making something easier to understand and use. That’s why having insight into how others might perceive our work is critical.
To do this, we need diversity of opinion, and this will only happen when we open up to feedback from our peers and from users.
Don't just hear
There’s a difference between simply hearing feedback, and actually listening to it. Listening when others are providing feedback can help us identify areas in which our work can improve faster.
Why is that exactly you ask? It’s quite simple: listening allows us to see things from another point of view, and question our own assumptions.
Don’t be defensive
It’s important to remember that critical feedback isn’t a personal attack on our capabilities as designers. It’s purpose is to give us insight and allow us to think of our work from a different angle. By being defensive, we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow from the feedback being provided.
The result is our colleagues will be less likely to provide feedback in the future, or they might hold back to avoid our defensiveness.
Take it with a grain of salt
All feedback, even feedback that we don’t agree with, is an opportunity to see our work from a different perspective. It’s a dialogue centered on how to improve the design, not a mandate on what must change.
If we decide to not make revisions based on a particular point of feedback, it’s perfectly alright as long as we have a good reason for doing so.
Don’t mistake praise for feedback
While it can be self-gratifying to receive praise for our work, it doesn’t provide the critical analysis necessary for growth and improvement. Praise is typically superficial and only serves to validate design decisions, even if they are shallow or non-existent.
To exacerbate this issue, many social platforms that are popular with designers have a tendency to quickly devolve into praise networks. These networks only vindicate designers, as opposed to providing a network in which we can seek critical feedback.
Providing Critical Feedback
In order to receive critical feedback on our work, we must open ourselves up to opinions that we might not necessarily agree with.
Frame your feedback
The most important thing to remember when providing feedback is to keep it framed within the context of the project’s goals. Shared goals help to align the team on intent by keeping design conversations focused and move things forward by making it easier to rationalize decisions within the team. They ensure continuity around the decision making process and keep the team aligned on what matters.
When we provide feedback to others, it should always circle back to one or more design goals that the team has aligned on.
Be clear and concise
Feedback that isn’t clear or direct is less likely to be helpful, and can potentially set a project off in a bad direction. It’s important that we know how to articulate our feedback, and we have considered the implications of it.
Only then will feedback be clear and concise, which increases it’s helpfulness by making it more actionable.
Feedback that is too specific doesn’t give the recipient room to engage the problem, and the results are often less effective. A better approach is to ask questions that invite the recipient to reconsider their approach and solve the problem on their own.
Asking questions, as opposed to providing solutions, will ensure team members feel like respected contributors and enables them to do their job more effectively.
Be respectful and patient
In order to receive critical feedback on our work, we must open ourselves up to opinions that we might not necessarily agree with. For those whom are providing feedback, it’s important to remember this and to remain respectful and patient when providing feedback to our colleagues.
Doing this will allow the feedback process to be more effective, and ensure the recipient is more receptive to our opinions.
The benefits of actively seeking and providing design feedback are numerous. They not only enable us to identify problem areas in our work quickly, but also validate effective solutions. Most importantly, design feedback enables us to grow professionally and learn from our fellow designers.
The tips that we’ve covered on giving and receiving feedback will help to ensure we’re getting the most out of the feedback we’re provided, and that feedback we are giving is as effective as possible.