User Experience

Tips for Improving How You Give Design Feedback

Constructive and genuinely useful feedback makes all the difference.

One of the most important steps towards improvement is giving or receiving feedback. Whether it be in your life decisions, a fashion choice, a career choice, or designs, it’s the essential step for learning. 

When it comes to giving good design feedback, the task isn’t easy. Sure, you could tell them good job and make general statements on how to improve, like saying add this or change the colors of this and you’re good to go. But if you really want to give the person you’re critiquing an opportunity to really learn from their mistakes and come back even stronger, it’s important to learn a few key things about giving design feedback. 

Giving good feedback means that you’ll receive a better, more quality product back, and you’ll give the designer some room to improve on every single one of their future designs. Good feedback doesn’t mean that the improvement ends or stays on one particular project. Genuine feedback will result in building better skills and strategies to have a beautiful, almost near perfect design every time.

On the flip side, receiving good feedback is really what makes the whole process a completely different experience. It can be really frustrating and demotivating to have poor quality feedback and not know where to go from the first edition, or even build yourself into a better designer for the next time. 

That’s where these tips come in. While it may seem like you know what you’re doing, it might be helpful to just know a few tried and true classic tips to improve your feedback. It’s important to remember that you, too, are learning and some introspection into what you could be doing better is always worth the time!

Here’s some tips we’ll run through in this article:

  • Honesty is the best policy
  • Back up what you say
  • Take the opportunity to learn something yourself
  • Don’t forget to compliment too
  • Stay focused 

Honesty is the Best Policy

When you’re giving feedback, sometimes those professional connections can make you feel like you have to hold back the criticisms, and tone down something that is actually quite awful.

In reality, not being honest with your feedback actually creates a much bigger issue of trust, not one learning, and letting a bad product or design keep advancing. Remember that being honest is actually one of the best ways to give truly authentic and beneficial feedback that designers can use as motivation to come back even stronger. There a few things to note when you’re being honest:

  • What’s not working in this design, because really, not everything works the first time
  • Things you really just don’t like (even if they seem to really like it)
  • Their mistakes and incorrect information
  • What they could do better next time
  • If the design in its entirety is unsalvageable or better off just starting over
People's hands all together on a table with laptops working together.
Protecting someone’s feelings is not worth letting a bad design slip by.

When you have close relationships or fear hurting someone, it can be really hard to say these things. It’s extremely important to separate the person from the design and look at the design as its own entity. A helpful tip is to be passive. Instead of asking why they chose to do something this way, ask why that thing is the way it is. Keeping it impersonal really helps to negate any offensiveness or someone taking your feedback personally. 

Remember, this isn’t a friend to friend interaction. It’s professional, and you both want to reach a mutual goal of giving good enough feedback that the designer has something to work with and you feel confident that they will come back with strong improvements.

Back Up Your Critiques

Helpful feedback is rooted in real, tangible things about someone’s design. Simply saying that the colors don’t look right together is not as effective as saying that the dark blue against the black makes the design appear muted and uninteresting. It might seem daunting to have to “defend” everything you’re saying, but this is what actually creates the opportunity for the designer to learn something new and genuinely improve. Backing up your feedback can look a few different ways:

  • Citing specifics
  • Giving examples
  • Being concise 
  • Providing clear explanations
  • Using real data from the business

Your design feedback is a lot more trusting and valuable when you can actually defend the critiques you have. It also gives the designer a chance to actually improve and change what isn’t working with their design - which can only mean a better product the next time around!

Another benefit to backing up your feedback is that it shows you genuinely care about the design you are critiquing. The chance of your feedback feeling superficial and rushed is definitely something to consider, and ensuring that you’re giving good thought to what you’re saying and making that evident to the designer really builds the solid foundation of trust. The designer will feel like they’re being taken seriously, and that you’re also paying close attention to their design. It will make them more likely to come to you in the future, and also just allow you to have that level of authenticity with them. 

Man and woman sitting at a table and talking.
Good teamwork is essential to giving productive feedback. 

Take the Chance to Learn Something New

Giving good design feedback is not a one-sided process. If you want to improve your feedback game, it is time to stop looking at it as you versus the other person. Instead, it should be a collaborative process and discussion. 

Here a few good steps to ensure that you’re keeping the feedback process on an equal playing field:

  • Ask good questions
  • Refrain from talking at them, talk with them
  • Keep the floor open 
  • Give them a chance to talk too

There are quite a few opportunities for you to learn something new from your designer! Maybe a different technique or strategy, an idea you hadn’t considered, or a good perspective outside of your own. It’s easy to do all of the talking, but the designer might not feel heard or like they were given a chance to explain themselves and their thoughts. Keep the playing field equal - you talk, then give them a chance to talk too, ask plenty of questions about something you might know, something you want to know more about, or something you don’t quite understand. 

The team effort and collaborative nature of also giving yourself the chance to learn something too means that your feedback feels genuine and not forced or overly-authoritative. 

Two men sitting together and looking at something on a screen.
It’s crucial to keep the game equal. 

Give Plenty of Compliments!

Giving good feedback doesn’t just mean giving a lot of thorough critiques. It means telling the designer what you liked, too. 

There is a popular analogy of giving compliments and criticism in a “sandwich” pattern, but this can actually undermine your feedback. The sandwich analogy means that you slap a compliment in between two criticisms, in an effort to balance out the good with the bad when you’re giving feedback. Here’s why it’s actually more ineffective than it might seem:

  • It teaches the designer to anticipate bad news when they receive a compliment
  • It can dilute and make other comments meaningless or not as valuable
  • It detracts from the focus of explaining what is and isn’t working by requiring a “method” or “pattern”
  • It can feel ingenuine

What’s really important is that you tell the designer if you like something. If there seems to be something that is really working or something that is a strong point, definitely share that with them! It’s also important to acknowledge and compliment their efforts in creating, which can be a compliment as well. 

Two girls sitting against a windowsill talking.
Recognizing the designer’s hard work is important no matter how much improvement the design requires. 

Stay Focused 

If you want to improve your feedback skills, don’t forget the importance of keeping it all concise and together. There’s one goal in mind, and that is to share enough of your critiques and words of praise so that the designer can improve on their skills and deliver a good product. 

Keep the conversation focused and professional. Now isn’t the time to talk about previous work you’ve seen, or what’s coming up in the future, or even about your personal lives. Try to stay focused on the design, what you like and dislike, and what there is to improve upon. 

Concise feedback means that the designer is more likely to remember everything you said and find it more meaningful and intentional!

Giving good design feedback is one of the most important skills to have in the business of marketing and design as a whole. Improvement doesn’t just start anywhere, and it is absolutely a team effort! Following these tips and putting them to the test the next time it’s your chance to offer feedback on someone else’s work will ensure a positive and productive experience for both you and the designer! So get those designers together, look at their hard work, and learn a thing or two!

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