The Design Critique: Giving and Receiving Feedback

Design critiques are key to any successful design process. Creating in a bubble will ensure a design fulfills what you want, but obtaining solid feedback and addressing it will ensure that it meets the needs of others. Here are some of my personal takeaways and interpretations from the What is Wrong with UX podcast episode Stop Arguing with Feedback hosted by Laura Klein and Kate Rutter.

Why do people take feedback so personal?

For many people, being critiqued can feel like a personal attack. It is hard to disconnect themselves from the work they created. No one wants to hear that something they have put so much time and effort into is not great. It doesn’t feel good being told that you didn’t get it right the first time. It also doesn’t help that when one asks for feedback, its implied that we have to point out everything that needs to be fixed. People focus on the negative aspects and forget to point out the parts that have actually been executed well.

How to ask for feedback

  • Be mindful of where you are in the design process and give guidance on what kind of feedback you want. For example, if you leave feedback very open and general at the end of the design process, hearing something along the lines of “you should completely change direction” wont be very helpful at that point. However, something like this might have been useful in the ideation stage. Don’t make someone guess, or even worse, have them critique everything. Having a focus will ensure that the suggestions are more valuable and show that you value peoples time.
  • Present the right deliverable for the kind of feedback you want. If you want feedback about layout, don’t present a high fidelity pixel perfect design mockup. People will see this and start to critique the visual design. In this case, it is probably best to show something like a feature map or wireframe. If you want someone to edit your copy, send them a document where they can focus on that. Whatever you want the focus of the feedback to be, ensure you are presenting it in a way that does not distract people from this.
  • Ask for feedback often. What matters in the end, is how successful the design is, not whether you were able to get something done without anyone's help. Having a second set of eyes will always make your designs better.

How to receive feedback

  1. Don’t react immediately. Take a deep breath and listen without arguing or becoming defensive. Remember that you asked for their feedback for a reason. If you immediately tell them they are wrong, then it might indicate you are not good at taking criticism. It can also be disrespectful if you came to this person as the expert.
  2. Get Curious. Ask them to give you more information about the feedback they are sharing. Remember, they are coming from a different perspective, with a different understanding of your design. Allow them to provide context to the points they are making.
  3. Acknowledge their contribution and thank them. If you asked them for their feedback, they are doing you a favor by taking time to do so. Even if their response is extremely negative being polite can go a long way.
  4. Decide what feedback is useful and apply it. Just because someone gives feedback does not mean you need to incorporate it in your work. Take the time to think about whether the feedback is valuable, who it’s coming from and whether it will make your design better. Sometimes feedback can be out of scope, or not useful considering where you are in the process. Other times, the person providing feedback is not a person whose opinion you value. However, when there is helpful feedback, be sure to apply it to your design.
  5. Follow up. Reach out to the people who gave you feedback and tell them what points you addressed and those you did not. Then explain why you chose to address certain points but not others. They will better understand your project and give more useful feedback in the future. It will also help to build trust and encourage future design critiques.

How to give feedback

  • Don’t give unsolicited feedback, unless you are a designer leading a design team. Even then, you may want to consider first asking the person if they would like some feedback. If they rarely say yes, then step in to and explain why its imperative they get prompt feedback.
  • Take time to understand the project. If the designer doesn’t give you context about the design, what stage of the process they are or specific points to provide feedback on, ask them for it. This will make the feedback you give more valuable and save time and energy of both parties.
  • Don’t only focus on the negative. This could make a designer feel defensive, and uncomfortable. Tell them what is working so they continue to do this right in the future. You might find that there is more that works, than there are aspects that need improving.
  • Recognize that everyone is not going to take your feedback. Don’t get upset if they don’t. They likely have reasons for this. Follow up and ask if you really need to know. Respect their decisions.

Remember, feedback is not about being told how nice your designs are nor is it about bashing someones work. Its about improving a design for the success of a product.