How to give feedback

Small pieces of advice from a designer

Most of the time, feedback is explicitly asked for. It’s an important tool for any designer and we value it. There can, however, be times when nobody has asked for your feedback yet you have knowledge or opinions on a particular project and would like to offer up your insights.

This is encouraged, but should be done in a considered manner.

What is feedback?

Simply put, feedback is making suggestions to progress and improve a design.

How feedback is received really depends on the designer and there is no bulletproof solution to offering your thoughts, but if you take the following into consideration, it may prevent insult or injury.

Understand the goals

Design work will always consist of limitations, pros and cons, compromises and sacrifices. The decisions the designer makes are based on the goals and objectives of the project. It’s important that you understand the goals and the context, as the designer does, before offering up any suggestions.

If you’re not involved in the work directly you may not have enough context and have to poke around to get the understanding you need.

Don’t be scared to ask questions

The goal of feedback isn’t to shame the designer or prove you know more than they do. It’s to help the designer think through the problem and be able to flesh out the solution.

If you don’t fully understand something, ask a question before making a statement. It’ll be received in a more positive light.

“What’s the goal of this particular section?”

“Why did you decide to opt for this particular element over that?”

“I noticed we use buttons everywhere, why not use one here?”

Explain or elaborate

Try to have an explanation for your feedback. Elaborate and give reasons why you don’t like it or how you think it could improve.

Being able to explain the ‘why’ means you’ll have a much better chance of getting your point across.

“I’m not sure about this section. It feels too cluttered and I lose focus.”

“I prefer this element over that one because it’s familiar to me already.”

“To me, the link gets lost in the text. A button might make the action more prominent.”

Don’t make it personal

Suggestions in order to progress and improve the design.

Feedback is nothing personal but everyone believing in producing the best work possible. Open, honest feedback is the most valuable and is always hindered by having to tip-toe around the point.

Ultimately, we can’t incorporate every piece of feedback we receive, but with people asking the right questions and offering constructive feedback grounded in context, it allows designers to make the most informed decisions for the best possible outcome.

(This post was adapted from a talk I gave to our Campaign Monitor office in Sydney around giving feedback to the designers on the Marketing Team)