How to give designers better feedback

4 min read
Dennis Field
  •  Jan 22, 2015
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Feedback’s a touchy subject for most designers. So touchy, in fact, that many of us would love to skip that stage of the process sometimes. In the worst-case scenario, it can even feel like feedback providers stand between our pristine, beautiful concept and a delighted world. But we know feedback’s necessary.

In my career, I’ve had some really great feedback experiences—and some really horrible ones. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about giving feedback so you can help your designers accept, understand, and ultimately make the changes you’re asking for.

But before I share that, it’ll help to better understand the designer’s mind. Of course, one size rarely fits all—your designer may differ. But it’s a great place to start.

Understanding the designer

This should come as no surprise: designers love design.

Design isn’t just a job for us, it’s a way of life.Twitter Logo We live, eat, and breathe design. Given a choice between comparable products, we’ll buy the better-designed one. We see every new project as an opportunity to improve our reputation and show our peers what we’re made of.

Our ultimate goal is to leave a legacy—a contribution to the design world, no matter how small. We’re always looking for that one game-changing project. They don’t cross our desks every day, but we believe every project can become the one.

We’re visual people by nature, obsessed with the tiniest details (“pixel perfect,” anybody?), but we always have our eyes on the bigger vision. Sometimes, when it looks like we’re not busy, we’re actually neck-deep in finding a solution. When we are busy, we’re often juggling several projects with due date: yesterday.

Deep down, we love feedback.Twitter Logo We genuinely want what’s best for the client—and we want to be better at what we do. We just might not be on the same page all the time. We’re people-pleasers, which is why we often take on more work than we should. We like to work hard, if only because of our perfectionism.

Now, all of that might make it seem like we’re complicated to work with, but the fact of the matter is, we usually aren’t. We generally prefer things to be smooth, simple, and process-driven.

So, now that you totally get designers, how do you use your newfound knowledge to provide better your feedback?

5 things to consider when you’re giving feedback

When I think about the people who not only succeeded at motivating me to make changes, but also took the pain out of the feedback process, I see a few similarities. Focus on these, and you’ll be giving better feedback in no time.

Don’t just explain what you like and don’t like. Instead, bring the discussion back to the problem you’re trying to solve. Don’t come to a designer with a solution—leave that to the designer, and you’ll create a sense of ownership that results in better work.

1. Build trust

The best feedback I’ve gotten has come from people I trust. People who care as much about their team as they do about finding the right solution.

A great feedback provider doesn’t just point out changes or take over the design. Instead, they ensure their designer understands how a change could improve the solution—without destroying any sense of ownership. The designer then gets to learn from a more experienced peer, improving the working relationship and building mutual understanding.

2. Develop understanding

Project managers are in a tough spot. They’re the go-betweens, working to deliver the solutions clients need while keeping their creative teams happy. The best project managers share their expectations with their designers.Twitter Logo This gives the designer an opportunity to balance the client’s goals, the project manager’s, and their own. With that understanding, everyone can work effectively and with complete transparency. I once commuted 6 hours to work on a Saturday because I respected my project manager and directors. I understood the goals and wanted to do my part to make the project a success for everyone involved.

3. Feedback should be discussed

The best feedback providers don’t just send over a spreadsheet of changes, forward an email chain with feedback from 20 different people, or mark up a comp and demand changes by end of day. Instead, they make providing effective feedback a priority. They make it a process based on clear communication, so feedback’s less of a bulleted to-do list and more of a discussion.

4. Present the problem, not the solution

Don’t just explain what you like and don’t like.Twitter Logo Instead, bring the discussion back to the problem you’re trying to solve. Don’t come to a designer with a solution—leave that to the designer—and you’ll create a sense of ownership that results in better work.

Tools like InVision make it really easy to create a process that encourages problem solving and collaborative feedback. Designers need the opportunity to stand up and justify their ideas.Twitter Logo Through conversations like that, designers can articulate what a design may not be able to on its own, and eventually grow as problem solvers.

5. Designers are people too

A designer’s experiences play a huge role in how they accept feedback, so try to get to know them. Find out what they like and don’t like, what makes them tick. Help them open up to you about their previous experiences and future goals. Getting a designer to share their frustrations and aspirations will help them move forward while positioning you as an ally. Your job then becomes less focused on trying to read the designer’s mind and more on motivating them to reach their goals through the projects you’re working on together.

Leave subjectivity out of the equation and focus on the end goal. Because it’s the goal that should determine what feedback is implemented and what’s ignored—not what you “like” and “don’t like.”

As they say, there are 2 sides to every story. Perhaps in another post I’ll share some insight into the project manager’s mindset and the things designers should know in order to help their project managers reach their goals.

What have your experiences with feedback been? Have you had any project managers or art directors that were great at enabling you to do your job? If so, share what you’ve learned. I’d love to hear it.

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