Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback
Why and how we give design feedback on the BuzzFeed Product Design team
On the BuzzFeed Product Design team, we value transparency, collaboration, and strong communication. We know that getting feedback on our work is the only way to make it better, so we critique work early and often. We use group critiques, peer critiques, Basecamp, Slack, and informal conversations to continuously collect feedback on our work.
Feedback is important for a few reasons:
- Getting feedback on your work is the best way to make it better. Working in isolation will only get you so far. You need to actively seek and accept feedback from others to continuously grow your skill set.
- Giving feedback helps you practice your verbal and written communication skills. Any time you have to think critically about how to explain your thoughts, feelings, or criticisms, you’re practicing your ability to communicate. Communication skills help you explain your point of view, resolve conflict, and distill complex topics.
- Giving feedback helps you become more self aware. The longer you spend critically examining others’ work, the stronger your own skills become. You’ll begin to notice missteps or less-than-ideal solutions earlier, and begin editing yourself as you work.
With all that in mind, here are a few tips for giving and receiving feedback.
Tips for giving feedback
Understand the project goals and context. If you don’t understand, ask! It’s nearly impossible to give helpful feedback unless you understand the context and goals of a project. If you don’t have clarity on the background or what the purpose of the project is, ask the person presenting the work.
Focus on problems, not solutions. When giving design feedback, it’s best to point out what the problems are with something, rather than jumping in to solve the problem. You can share your ideas, but start with the problem and trust your teammates to ultimately arrive at a thoughtful solution. If you’re having trouble formulating your thoughts, start by describing what you see. From there, point out what’s not working, then you can optionally share suggestions.
Explain your reasoning. When giving feedback, there are objective facts (e.g., “this design violates a well known usability best practice”) and subjective feelings (e.g., “I don’t like that shade of blue”). Both are valuable: objective facts help ensure your teammates are following best practices (when it makes sense to) and subjective feedback can help develop your and your teammates’ taste — especially when considering visual design feedback.
Tips for receiving feedback
Share work early and often. The more frequently you share work, the more comfortable you’ll become doing it. By sharing work early, you’ll get feedback to inform your explorations and will reduce the amount of work you need to re-do.
Give context and specify the type of feedback you’re looking for. To make sure you get the most relevant feedback, explain the goals and background of your work, and ask pointed questions to get the answers you need (e.g., don’t ask “ what do you think” but rather “is this flow easy to understand”).
Ask clarifying questions. If you don’t understand a piece of feedback, ask for clarification. This is particularly helpful when someone gives vague feedback, but can also be helpful if someone doesn’t fully explain a best practice or communicate why they’re giving subjective feedback.
Take notes to filter and prioritize feedback later. When presenting design work, focus on absorbing all of the feedback, taking notes and asking follow-up questions. After you share work, you can filter the feedback into what you plan to address and what is not relevant.
Remember it’s not personal. Design feedback is about the work, not about the person making the work.
All of the tips outlined above assume you’re a part of a healthy, safe environment when you are sharing work. There may be times when this isn’t true!
While this post is grounded in how and why we work the way we do on the Product Design team, the tips are universal. No matter what your discipline is, learning to give and receive feedback will help you level up your skill set and ultimately, your career.