Whether it’s from stakeholders, peer designers or just friends, getting feedback about design can be challenging and is often a frustrating experience for many designers.
But early and continuous feedback from likely all of the above mentioned groups is crucial to the success of your designs, so rather than avoiding it, learning to manage it and guide it is the way to go.
These are a few lessons I’ve learned about keeping design feedback effective:
1. Define objectives and priorities
This is the first step for doing anything anyway, but it’s guaranteed that without alignment on objectives and priorities, the feedback session or design presentation will be frustrating and will not go as you would like it to.
So basically this first step just puts you on the only possible path to ever getting effective feedback.
Define the objectives of what you will be doing before starting to work in the first place, to make sure to guide your time and work. But also at the beginning of the feedback session or meeting, set very clear expectations of what the purpose of the session is and what kind of feedback you’re looking for. It would also be a good idea to remind everyone of the original project objectives of what you will be showing.
2. Guide the feedback
With the first step you should have defined the objectives of your session and explained the kind of feedback you’ll be looking for. For example if the aim is to evaluate the flow and interaction, we should not get hung up on placeholder icons.
Feedback can easily become very frustrating if it’s not purposeful. Keep going back to the originally discussed objectives to guide the feedback and make sure people stay on the right track and with the same goals.
Additionally prepare a few points or questions that you want to get answers to or evaluate. That way you can stay away from irrelevant feedback, but also help people who might not immediately have feedback evaluate the designs more easily and specifically.
3. Be in the room
That’s not necessarily being in the same physical room, but rather walking people through the designs instead of handing off static screens, or even worse, sending an email.
A lot of us, designers, probably would like to think that our designs speak for themselves, but there is likely going to be misunderstandings about the context if you’re not there to guide them through it.
Especially if it’s not final designs, you simply need to be there to walkthrough your work. And that will not mean that it’s not intuitive or obvious, it’s just what needs to happen if you’re looking for constructive and effective feedback.
4. Prepare to give logical reasons
This probably is an obvious one, and you will hopefully have your reasons behind your design decisions. But you also need to be ready to explain them to non-designers. Be ready to back it all up with research if you can, with other examples, with inspirations, whatever is needed to make your case for better usability.
Ideally your reasons will also be based on the original objectives and priorities and you can go back to refer to them.
That said, this is not about vigorously defending the designs against all complaints, but this is just another way to guide the feedback to be more constructive.
5. Dig Deeper
People will not always find the right ways to express their thoughts, especially when they lack the right terminology. In a lot of cases you will also get a lot of feedback that seems subjective but that is likely rooted in something else that the person is simply not able to articulate.
Whatever comments you get, always try to understand the reasons behind them, whether they really mean what they said or if they’re trying to explain something different.
In a lot of cases people give their critique in the form of a solution — try to understand what they’re trying to achieve instead.
Solutinizing is sometimes a way that makes criticism sound nicer, or people think it’s the only way to provide constructive feedback or avoid being too negative. But it’s not, constructive feedback should be through evaluating the solution against the objectives, and it’s your job to guide it towards that.
6. Avoid placeholders
…or dummy text.
It might seem faster and even useful for developers to use placeholders or explanations like “location name” or “summary”. However for presentations this usually ends up causing confusions and misunderstandings.
Use actual examples that are as realistic as possible, that way you don’t expect or need people to use their imagination or add their own interpretations.
It also helps envision the final design and might save future confusions about how those spaces will be filled.
There are a lot of plugins and tools that help with making this process faster now, Craft’s plugin has a good one — if you’re looking for names, addresses, and generic articles
But in a lot of cases you might need to do your research to add relevant information, as this is probably the best way to evaluate the design anyway.
More good points about that here:
7. Only present valid alternatives
It’s usually helpful to have more than one alternative solution to compare and evaluate. And it’s just one more way to guide the feedback.
However presenting more than one option can be tricky.
While usually two or three — depending on what you’re designing — should be enough, it can be sometimes tempting to go to stakeholders with more, to show how much you’ve worked on this, or even with the naive attempt to show why something doesn’t work.
But this can lead down a dark path; you probably want to discard that design for a reason, so it should not be an alternative at all!
Don’t give people the option for something that will be problematic, likely you will be able to explain why it doesn't work and stay away from it anyway, but very likely just having it there would lead to confusions, or at the very least waste your effective feedback time.
8. You’re not always right
You will explain the reasons and logic, you will try to keep things on point with objectives, but it’s important to be able to know when you’re wrong and when you missed something. It might feel frustrating, but it’s good. It gives you a chance to improve.
And after all it’s the reason you wanted that feedback in the first place.