Say What You Mean: How to Give Helpful Design Feedback

Seth Giammanco

Coming out of the design kick-off meeting, we’re just as excited to start as you are. We’ll start exploring how design can address the goals you identified.

When it’s time to share the first round of those concepts, We like to present the designs in person or on a call. Later rounds when minor details are being ironed out can be done through email, but the initial rounds work best when they include a discussion.

While we work hard to create designs you can say “Yes!” to, it often takes a few rounds to refine the final design. There’s a direct correlation between how quickly we refine to how helpful your feedback is. It’s OK not to have a lot of feedback. We’re going for value over volume so let’s look at how to give helpful feedback to designers.

Ask yourself, “How does the design relate to my organization’s goals?”

This is the most important thing to remember because people often find it the most difficult. It’s the moment to take a step back, set aside your personal preferences, and put on your organizational hat. Everyone has their likes and dislikes when it comes to colors and typography, but everyone giving feedback should have the same perspective — your organization’s.

You may hate the color teal, but if it’s your organization's primary color, then it’s not helpful to say you don’t like the design because it has teal in it. When you review designs, it’s useful to think about your organization’s goals and who the intended audience is. It will help focus you on the problem you want solved. Does the design provide a good solution?

Are you giving the consensus of the feedback team?

Have you read a restaurant review that says, “Some people love the old-world charm, while others say it’s well past its prime”? What are you supposed to do with that? How does it help you decide whether or not to make a reservation?

That’s why we scratch our heads when we receive feedback like, “Bill likes the red. Tara thinks it’s too bold.” What should we do, keep the red or try a more subtle color? Whose opinion carries more weight? Moreover, should we be the ones deciding that?

The more people you’re collecting feedback from, the harder it can be to consolidate. I recommend that rather than emailing the design around and fielding responses, try to get everyone in the same room together to participate in the presentation. When people offer conflicting opinions, encourage the team to explain their feelings about the design and come to a group agreement. It won’t always be easy, but it will save you time and money by not passing on feedback that could later be reversed and require design revisions.

Are you giving specific feedback?

Instead of asking us to change the color of the button, it’s important to explain why you want the color changed. Is it because you think it doesn’t stand out enough? Or are you worried that it's not on brand? Or perhaps you think it doesn’t coordinate well with a neighboring color? We’ll respond differently to each one of these scenarios, so it's necessary that we understand why you’re rejecting a design choice. I promise, it’s not about our ego or defending the design. It's about correctly understanding your concern so we can provide a solution in the next round and not three rounds from now. If we receive unclear feedback, we’ll keep asking why to get to your root concern before doing the next round. Having a conversation is always more efficient than doing more rounds.

Are you sending the feedback on time?

Together we’ll figure out deadlines and milestones, but we have to be honest about how those dates are unintentionally affected. If you have five days to review a design round and consolidate feedback, but take three weeks to complete the task, then deadlines have to change. MOD-Lab has much experience under its belt. We know exactly how long each phase of work will take us. If we say we need four days to incorporate feedback and generate a new round, then please don’t be late with that feedback and tell us to cut our time down to a day.

Additionally, we’ve held time to receive your feedback and revise the design. If you’re a week late, then your feedback might arrive during a time scheduled for someone else. If we can accommodate you we will, but please don’t assume we can. It’s important to flag delays in the process the moment they arise, not when the deadline has already passed. It’s why in the kick-off we’ll identify possible impacts on the timeline: vacations, events, and pre-existing commitments. We’ll plan around these potential pitfalls when mapping the design process.

Are you unclear about anything?

Don’t be afraid to ask! It’s one of the reasons we like to present early rounds in person instead of sending them to you with notes. We’d rather field questions on a draft design than find out you're unhappy with the final work.

Don't be afraid to ask why a particular design decision was made or tell us if something is not working for you. We went to art school and spent years getting our work crushed. We can take it! The collaboration between our design thinking and your knowledge of your organization and its constituents is what makes great work. 


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