How to Give Good Design Feedback
Giving good feedback is a skill that can be (and should be) learned and trained. Regardless of the type of project you're involved in or what role you play, the quality of your feedback could make everything flow better, or elevate costs & stress levels.
Providing feedback doesn't just mean pointing out mistakes or expressing dislike. To the contrary: The only effective criticism is constructive criticism. And delivering good feedback requires clarity, conciseness, and actionability.
Wondering how to give better feedback? Then you’re in the right place.
In this post, we'll share:
- The importance of giving meaningful feedback during a design project (& the consequences of not doing so)
- 7 essential best practices to give great design feedback.
Ready? Let's get started.
Why Giving Great Design Feedback Makes a Difference
You probably already know what good feedback is & why it's important. But, just to make sure we’re on the right track, let’s cover some basics.
So, what is good feedback?
Essentially, good feedback is actionable, accurate and honest criticism. Good feedback isn't motivated by a desire to make the person receiving it feel that they're incapable to perform the task at hand. Intead, good feedback aims to redirect efforts to fulfill the vision and goals of a project.
Good Feedback vs. Bad Feedback
Good feedback focuses on inspiring improvement. Sometimes, this improvement isn't made from a "bad" output, but just from an output that doesn't align with the project's vision.
Meanwhile, bad feedback is characterized by:
- Questioning the skills of the designer/s
- Over-elavorating on shortcomings or mistakes
- Failing to recognize what's being done right
- Lack of actionability
- Lack of conciseness
- Being emotionally charged or derogatory
How Feedback Makes a Difference
During design projects, feedback is usually important to:
- Provide new insights and perspectives, suggesting alternative solutions that can enhance the design's look-and-feel or functionality.
- Help designers to develop new skills and refine their existing ones.
- Ensure that everyone's aligned on the project's goals, and that they're not compromised during the creative process.
- Corroborate the scalability and accessibility of the proposed design.
- Comply with branding guidelines.
- Enrich the design process.
Feedback from team leaders and/or clients is essential for designers to do their best work. But, what if the feedback you give isn’t effective?
The Consequences of Bad Feedback
Giving bad feedback:
- Delays projects, because it causes the team to waste time trying to solve a problem without minimal guidance.
- Demoralizes your team, because no one likes to be insulted or forced to perform under vague instructions.
- Reduces your ability to have collaborators, because it makes it hard to retain good talent.
- Hurts your results, because it leads to miscommunication & decreases the deliverables' quality.
How to Give Design Feedback: 7 Key Best Practices
We’ve already covered the basics of giving good feedback. So, let’s dive into 7 feedback best practices that every design leader and client should adopt.
- Building confidence
- Being contextual
- Staying objective
- Focusing on clear & actionable advice
- Providing the "why"
- Being emotionally neutral
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
You don't want your team or agency partner to be a mere order-taker. Instead, you want them to share ownership of the project and feel confident to do their best work.
To get the most of our your team:
- Demonstrate trust in your team's abilities.
- Don’t set guidelines from a place of superiority or preference, and make it clear that you're there to help and guide, not to dictate unbreakable rules.
- Keep an open line of communication for sharing ideas, navigating roadblocks, and letting feedback flow both ways.
You'll want your team to apply your feedback to their work. So make it easy for them. Provide enough context so your team can quickly find and address any weak spots.
Don't share feedback through stream of consciousness emails. Meetings can also be terrible for giving feedback, as synchronous feedback is hard to hierarchize and keep track of.
Instead, we recommend you:
- Create a list
- Log your feedback on a spreadsheet
- Leave comments on design files
- Record a Loom video
- Use a spreadsheet
At Postdigitalist, our design team shares feedback with our developers through a spreadsheet. It looks pretty much like this:
Be Clear & Actionable
"I don't like the way it looks" is a valid opinion - but it adds nothing. Always explain why you don't like something and, if possible, suggest possible solutions.
Try to explain why something doesn't work for you. Does the composition feel off? Why? Is font sizing wrong? Why?
Giving good feedback can also be a self-discovery excercise. It's a great opportunity to ask yourself why you like the things you like. As a design leader, becoming good at feedback could also mean taking control of your taste and re-thinking your role so it's strategic rather than artistic.
Keep your thoughts concise and clear. And most importantly, be actionable.
"I don't like the image you chose" is not as clear as saying "I feel that this image does not accurately represent the purpose of this service. We could choose one that is more descriptive. For example, one that includes...".
"This is an issue" is not actionable. But "The contrast and the break in the grid can be a bit confusing. I feel the background should be clearer and we should review the hierarchy" is actionable.
In short, your feedback should be an implicit instruction.
"I don't like the way it looks" is not objective. "I feel we're hurting readability" is.
Being objective is not pretending that one doesn't have preferences or perspectives. It's about tying those perspectives to:
- Project goals
- Success indicators
We recommend you don't provide feedback without these two factors in mind. Especially, when the feedback in question targets a superficial aspect of the project.
According to Hans Hoffman, an artist and teacher:
"Design is the intermediary between information and understanding."
The same goes for feedback. If your comments are inconsistent and do not align with the project's objectives, they're likely guided by personal preferences - which are respectable, but aren't an objective design standard.
Provide the "Why"
Always start by explaining why. Don't just offer solutions or instructions. It's likely that the designer will read your comments and want to know why you're requesting a specific change.
In design processes, the best solutions are created collaboratively across teams. One person rarely has the final say.
So, don't be afraid to empower your designer to make decisions. Rather than telling them exactly what to do, ask constructive, contextual questions. For instance, instead of "Remove the CTAs on X and Y sections", you could say:
"Call to actions are very important when it comes to getting leads. However, we need to make sure they don't overwhelm our visitors because this is a very sensitive industry. What can we do, in terms of design, to strike the balance between inviting action & respecting users' decision-making process?"
A good designer will know how to answer this question.
Be Emotionally Neutral
No one likes to be mistreated at work. And good luck finding talented people who enjoy being mistreated. Don't be overly personal or aggressive. This is both unprofessional and counterproductive.
Being mistreated is not "part of the dance". It's wrong. And it's pertinent to make this clear, even though it's obvious.
In most cases, rude feedback isn't the result of malice. It's the result of poor communication skills or weak stress management. But that doesn't justify it. As design leaders, we should always take a deep breath and count to ten before expressing frustration.
If faced with consistently insulting feedback, design leaders may find it necessary to drop out of a project. And it's easy to see why.
Even if you pride yourself on your high standards, it's key to prioritize. Not all changes are equally important. Have a clear idea of what's essential and non-negotiable, and what can be left for later.
Make sure your team invests most of their post-feedback time on high-priority fixes, not minor details.
Giving design feedback requires some work, but it's crucial for getting the most out of your design project. Feedback shouldn't be about interpersonal friction, but about growth and alignment.
Put yourself in your teammates' shoes. Besides applying best practices, imagine what type of feedback you'd like to receive, and act accordingly. And remember: if your feedback can be more precise, make it more precise.
Looking for a design partner that focuses on usability, conversions & ROI? You're in the right place. At Postdigitalist, we help startups to turn their websites into growth-driven, low-code conversion funnels. Want to discover how? Book a free consulting call today.