Finding your Design Buddies

Thoughts on feedback and working with other designers.

Ollie Barker
Jun 30, 2016 · 5 min read

Working in a strong creative-lead environment can give any designer a massive boost to help them to grow and mature their craft. By having other designers help to challenge your perceptions and ideas you can work passionately to grow and develop your work. Exploring new avenues of ideas you would never have considered working solo.

For a lot of new designers this can start by feeling very personal. Opening up your unfinished work for critical feedback can feel quite negative. Yet this is an attitude you have to work to overcome.

Why feedback is so important

Having an open mind will help you to better justify your work and decisions. You’ll learn when to fight your corner and defend your choices, but most importantly, you’ll learn when to defer to others experience and judgement. Your work will evolve containing a solid rationale and will incorporate more meaning and value in the long-term.

Without feedback, you’d be experiencing your designs solely through your own eyes. Designing in isolation will mean you’ll end up with a product that—while suits your needs perfectly—could easily ignore the needs of hundreds or thousands of other people using your designs in the real world.

You need to be drawing from the unique array of skills and knowledge of your colleagues and fellow designers to ensure your work has real value for it’s users and caters for as many scenarios as possible.

Choosing the right people

Opening up your work to others is only half the deal. It’s just as important to be choosing the right people to share your work with as it is to share it in the first place. If you’re not conferring and consulting with the right people at the right time you’ll quickly find your work isn’t evolving as quickly as you might hope.

You need someone with whom you trust to be honest with you. Who won’t be afraid to risk hurting your feelings for the greater good of the project. However still with the creative insight to discover flaws in your thinking and aspects you may have otherwise overlooked.

Sure those “This is awesome!” comments are great and confidence boosting, but they won’t help you refine and improve your work. If anything, they’ll only give you a false sense of accomplishment.

Working solo?

If you’re in the situation where you’re the only designer on a project or in a team, you’re likely to struggle to obtain the level of critical feedback needed to really help push you and your work.

This is where your Design Buddies come in handy. There are hundreds if not thousands of other designers in the world in similar situations to you. You can borrow their minds to help obtain their insights and ensure that you don’t find yourself ‘stuck in a rut’.

How can you find these people? Start by joining design communities where sharing and feedback is encouraged. Our industry is really unique in that there’s such an accepted foundation of sharing and collaboration unlike any other. Designers are incredibly supportive of each others work, and yearn with a genuine passion to help make everything the best it can be.

When I found myself working on the UI and UX aspects of an iOS app for the first time with a real client, I knew I wouldn’t be able to entirely rely on my own assumptions and ideas. I didn’t have the experience or knowledge to fully sell my designs to my colleagues or the client and ensure they were best for the end users.

I started by posting rough screenshots and mockups to design Slack channels and listening intently to the feedback other designers were giving me. Often it was bittersweet. I’d be disheartened at how an idea I’d thought was good, would be discouraged. Yet almost every time it would lead to newer and better ideas being developed and brought to the table. They made me really think about my work in ways I’d never come close to considering.

The designs I ended up pitching were effective and well thought-out. I could backup all of my decisions and choices, and even explain variations I’d tried and why they weren’t quite right.

Giving feedback

There are many great articles that already exist to help teach you to give better feedback to fellow designers. In my experience it boils down to individual experience and the following three points.

There’s no point giving feedback if you’re not going to be honest. Yet try not to be overly negative. Why not try using the Compliment Sandwich Feedback Technique where you wrap your criticism with two pieces of phrase.

When commenting on work (notably Dribbble where a level of trust isn’t necessarily built) I like to use a slight variation of this. Starting with something I like, followed by a criticism, and finishing with a possible solution.

Simply telling a designer something needs to be changed might help in the short run, but unless the designer understands your reasoning they’ll only make the same mistake again in the future. So learn to justify and explain your reasoning. Even if you’re not 100% certain you’re correct, start the discussion and see where it leads.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Effective feedback is all about discussions. Aim to gain a deeper understanding of the designers reasons and motives. Don’t be afraid to ask what you might feel are stupid questions. You’ll be seeing their work from a fresh perspective more in-line with how real users will experience it. If something isn’t clear to you, it’s likely it won’t be clear to users.

So if there’s one thing to take just one thing away from this post, it’s to remember that the best work is created by great collaboration and learning. It’s about sharing thoughts, ideas and knowledge to create the best possible solutions within the limitations of the project.

So next time you’re stuck, before minutes turn into hours, share it and open up the discussion with your fellow designers. Whether they be in the same room, city or country, take the leap and help make your work the very best it can be.

If you’re not part of any already, I highly recommend taking 5 minutes and checking out the design Slack channels below. They’re an amazing resource to connect you to designers around the world.

A design community on slack where designers on dribbble share tips and get feedback on early shots. Sharpen your skills whilst being social.

Team Sketch
A community for Sketch designers powered by Slack

Spec Network
A resource to help designers and developers to learn, find great resources and connect with one another.

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