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How to give design feedback when you’re not a designer

Real talk: People love giving feedback (receiving it, on the other hand? Not as loved). Some even have feedback on God’s original creation of the Earth! When it comes to the creative process, however, giving feedback is both a language and an art form for understanding, synthesizing, and delivering information in a way that fosters better productivity and confidence for all involved.

In an attempt to listen rather than demand (a key recommendation we’d suggest if you’re giving feedback), we reached out to designers within the Projector community to get the 411 on the most constructive, collaborative, and honestly fair ways to provide feedback to designers — even if design itself is not your forte.

Here are some helpful feedback tips that our design community recommended:

Don’t talk too much about the design itself

Sometimes the most actionable feedback is the least on the nose. Designers are bombarded with design lingo all day long (“Can we try something more modern? More aesthetically pleasing? Less clunky?”). And although attempting to describe a design has its merits and can often lead to useful revisions, it’s not always the quickest way to communicate what you need.

(After all, Art Theory is difficult for a reason!)

Instead, focus your feedback around the context of the design. Many designers with whom we spoke wished that their teams spoke more about parameters and project goals. They tend to prefer more pragmatic points of feedback, rather than vague descriptors.

Don’t feel the need to etherealize the work just because it’s creative. If you have specific, actionable fixes, provide them! No poetry required here.

For example, the next time you’re about to ask for a “eye-pleasing” option for a homepage design, consider instead asking for “something that welcomes the viewer so they feel comfortable exploring our site.”

Spend more time explaining context rather than trying to find the right words to describe the art itself.

Just say what you mean

We all naturally intuit feedback as a “bad” thing, so sometimes when giving feedback, we attempt to soften the blow with niceties. However, in trying to be too empathetic with our feedback, we can actually get in the way of actionable next steps.

“Being too positive can be a bad thing,” one designer told us. “Please let me know if something doesn’t seem right to you. The earlier we can resolve an issue, the better.”

In fact, positive feedback can actually make a designer’s work more challenging when you attempt to endorse someone’s work before asking for something else.

We heard from one designer who said, “It’s confusing to say an aspect of the design ‘looks good’ and then expect to see more revisions on it.”

Instead, try to be clear about what you need revised on the next round that would be distinctly different from the current round. That way a designer can more readily understand the difference between what stays and what goes.

Of course, sometimes we like what we see, so we want to see more. However, “more of this!” is one of the least actionable feedback requests out there, and can lead to more meandering than might be necessary.

Delineate between examples and prescriptions

“I’ll just send you an example of what we’re trying to achieve here” is a commonly thrown around phrase in the creative world. Interestingly, even examples can be perceived differently by non-designers vs. designers.

While a marketer might be sending through an example as something they want replicated, designers often look to examples as inspiration rather than iteration.

When you’re sending through your north star example to a designer — “We’re looking for something along the lines of this.” — consider clarifying whether or not you want the designer to use it for creative musings, or if you’re actually looking for something more “plug-and-play.” If the former, specifically pointing out the key elements of the example that you admire or want incorporated in the final asset (i.e. the layout vs. the color palette vs. the image selection) will help give the designer guardrails (that won’t hurt their creativity!) within which to work.

Abandon all personal preferences

One could argue that art, itself, is subjective. Luckily, that’s where briefs come in! While it might be tempting to apply your own personal taste and aesthetic to a designer’s work, you can actually create friction in the process of trying to answer the bottom line.

Try to think of the brief as the universal language that both you and your design cohort speak. If you view the ask through your own vision too much, you risk setting up the designer to disappoint.*

As one designer said, “Be specific! If you don’t like a certain color, explain why. Separate your feedback from what is personal preference to what is best for the target audience or the goal of a design.” The more objective the process can remain, the quicker you and your creative partners will be able to collaborate rather than isolate.

*Note: Designers are NOT mind readers.

When in doubt, re-explain your goals

The one notion we heard over and over from designers was the value of communicating rationale — perhaps even over-communicating it! Explaining your goals can take a few forms:

(1) Set a kick-off call to highlight the non-design related elements of a project. To effectively create something cohesive for you, it’s best that they know everything (about everything) from the upfront.

(2) Provide overall notes about strategy when you provide feedback.
The more you challenge yourself to answer “why” you want to give the feedback, the more likely your feedback is going to be purposeful.

(3) Frame discussions around problems to be solved, not designs to be made.
When you present a graphic designer with a problem, they’re primed to come up with a surprising solution.

The great news: The feedback process is, at the end of the day, still a human process, which both means that there is room for error and that you and your design partner can just talk about what works best…even for feedback itself!

One designer made it simple for us when they said, “It’s important to set expectations for the state of your designs and what feedback would be the most helpful for you to receive.”

Projector makes it super easy for creative and marketing teams to collaborate in real-time on one platform so that the term “feedback” can start to become a force for good rather than a source of contention. Sign up for free here, and give it a try it with your team.

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