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How to Give Great Design Feedback That Can Actually Be Used

Team Superside
Team Superside
10 min read
design feedback tips

For designers, it’s getting feedback like “Can we make this POP more?” It leaves far too much room for interpretation, likely resulting in another round of feedback and changes that no one wants to go through.

For those assigning work to designers, it can be frustrating to provide a detailed design brief only to have the designer take complete creative freedom and not fulfill the project outline.

But, when feedback is embedded into the design process and done properly, it can drastically improve your end results—and is ultimately a win-win for both sides.

As you start to level-up your skills, you may be wondering about some of these design feedback questions:

  • What is the role of feedback in the design process?
  • When is the ideal time to give design feedback?
  • What kinds of feedback produces the best results?
  • Who should be looped into the feedback process?
  • What are examples of constructive feedback?

We’ll be tackling all of this and more below.

Let’s dive in!

The Importance of Effective Design Feedback

Feedback is essential to the design process. That’s because most designers aren’t designing for themselves, but instead fulfilling a brief. Whether it’s a social media campaign for marketing, a set of icons for the product team, or brochures for sales, every piece a designer works on will go through a set of revisions.

Enter design feedback.

When delivered effectively, design feedback can:

  • Help designers grow: As a manager, you should think of every design as an opportunity to provide constructive feedback that helps your designer level up their skills while building a better understanding of the brand (or a client’s brand).
  • Speed up projects: When you pair clear expectations with effective feedback, you and your designers are more likely to finish each project faster. That means less time spent sharing feedback back and forth.
  • Get the end result you envisioned: As a non-designer giving design feedback, delivering it effectively ensures that the design you get in the end is the one you envisioned at the start (or even better!).

7 Ways to Give Better Design Feedback

Now that we understand the impact of effective feedback, let’s tackle how to give design feedback the right way.

  1. Implement a Standardized Revision Model
  2. Always Direct Feedback at the Design, Not the Designer
  3. Do NOT Simply Provide Solutions. Describe the Problems Instead
  4. Leverage the Right Design Feedback Tools
  5. Keep All of your Feedback in One Place
  6. Be Descriptive with your Feedback
  7. Don’t Forget about Positive Feedback

1. Implement a Standardized Revision Model

It’s important to standardize your design process because, not only will it help set expectations with your designers, but it’ll make it easier for you to manage as well (your Design Ops person/team will thank you for this).

The biggest thing I've found over my time is, at the beginning of the campaign, choose who's going to be in it and who are the decision-makers. Specifically looking at the CEO or CMO, ‘Hey, if you want to be involved in this, you've got to be involved in all the meetings. You can't just have someone come in at the end and go, Oh, I don't like this.'"
– Bill Macaitis, Ex-marketing leader at Slack, Zendesk and Salesforce

A simple design revision process requires:

  1. Determine key stakeholders at start of the project.
  2. A detailed design brief to refer back to throughout the process. Include visual references of past projects and inspiration for desired output.
  3. A defined set of milestones for revisions and changes (I.e. first round to identify major issues, second round to ensure changes have been made and small tweaks, and final round to approve the design)
  4. Consolidated feedback. To save time, collect feedback from every stakeholder and consolidate it before sending it over to the designer.

2. Always Direct Feedback at the Design, Not the Designer

“Don’t take this personally, but…”

“No offense, but…”

We all know that when you start a sentence like this, it’s likely that you’re saying something offensive or personal. When sharing feedback, it’s important that you remove the designer from the picture and focus on the design itself instead. This should be reflected in the language you use, along with your overall feedback approach.

Bad feedback: “No offense, but I think this looks like it was designed by a child.”

Good feedback: “Using neon orange text over the neon blue background makes it hard to read. Can we use white text instead and consider readability for future designs?”

When asked how she preferred to receive design feedback, Mina Adame, Senior Product Designer at IBM said, “I like honest, critical feedback. I want people to be kind, but ultimately I want to improve as a designer.”

If you want to maintain a positive relationship with your designers and keep their motivation high throughout the entirety of their project (or career), never make feedback feel like a personal attack. Rather, you should share constructive feedback that helps them grow while elevating the design.

This brings us to our next point:

3. Do NOT Simply Provide Solutions. Describe the Problems Instead

This piece of advice is important for both design managers and non-designers. If you’re a manager, think of it as an opportunity to help your team grow and develop their skills. As a result, they’ll be more engaged at work as well.

This is the type of feedback that a design leader may give their team member to help push them to think of creative solutions. Instead of outright giving an answer, they can probe and nudge them towards a solution. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call this method “growth feedback”.

Growth feedback: “I like how this email header is looking, but there seems to be some overlap between the text and illustration. How would you improve this? Consider that someone opening an email will need to be able to digest the content quickly!”

As a non-designer, don’t try to tell designers how to design—you’re not the expert here. Instead, tell them what you’re looking for and where the design is currently falling flat.

This can include sharing context like:

  • Based on the marketing team’s data, images with people perform better compared to those with animals
  • The images you’ve requested for your ad campaign need to be under a certain copy threshold to be approved by Facebook
  • When creating banner ads, it’s better to have backgrounds that stand out on a webpage, so avoiding white might be best for these designs

It’s better to help your designers understand the why behind the changes to ensure they’re not designing in the dark. Describing the problems ensures that you don’t have to provide the same feedback the next time they work on a similar project.

4. Leverage the Right Design Feedback Tools

Are you using design management tools with your team to ensure that feedback and design collaboration are encouraged from both ends?

From the perspective of an in-house design team, if you haven’t already, it’s time to standardize your design team’s tech stack. This ensures that all of your files are compatible across the team and everyone has access to giving and receiving feedback.

Some design management tools to consider include:

  • InVision: A collaborative digital product design platform that’s mainly used by UX designers.
  • Figma: A collaborative design tool that enables teams to build everything from prototypes to designs.
  • Pitch: A presentation software that allows teams to collaboratively build pitch decks and other presentations.
  • GoVisually: An online proofing software that gives designers an easy way to collect feedback, and sign-off on designs and videos.

However, when it comes to outsourcing your design work, you’ll find that your designers will have their own tech stack and each will differ. That’s okay so long as there’s a way to provide feedback easily.

For example, at Superside, we have a whole design management platform for our customers to use. They can:

  • Upload existing brand assets
  • Chat with their project manager
  • Comment on designs
  • Add teammates
  • Plan out design projects
  • Etc.

5. Keep All of your Feedback in One Place

Nothing is more frustrating for a designer than having to sift through emails, Slack messages and collaboration tools to gather and action on multiple feedback points. That’s why it’s so important that, when you share feedback with designers, it’s all done in one place.

Doing this also leaves less room for missing a piece of feedback, requiring you and your designer to go through yet another round of edits.

TIP: Don’t give your feedback in pieces—pack it all neatly together with other stakeholder’s feedback. This will help the designer/s to take everything in at once and make an educated decision on what changes to make next.

The place you document your feedback is less important than your consistency of platform. So, whether you’re using one of the tools mentioned above or defaulting to a Gmail thread, keep all of your feedback in one place.

6. Be Descriptive with your Design Feedback

InVision interviewed several designers to learn about the worst feedback they’d ever received from a client.

This list included feedback like:

  • “I’ll know it when I see it”
  • “Use something in between serif and sans-serif”
  • “Make it more creative”

If you want to avoid ever seeing your words in an article like this, then always be descriptive with your feedback.

When sharing design feedback, try including some of these elements:

  • The design brief
  • Your audience
  • Colors
  • Fonts and sizes
  • Spacing
  • Images used
  • Image or canvas size

Bad feedback: “My wife’s favorite color is blue. Can we make the site more blue?”

Good feedback: “Can we change the navigation menu’s font color to blue? I want to include our brand colors more across the website to build familiarity with our audience.”

7. Don’t Forget about Positive Feedback

When asked about giving feedback to designers when their work isn’t quite up to par, Greg Storey, a former Senior Design Director at InVision said:

I generally begin with what people are doing well. It’s too deflating for them if you start by immediately identifying all the things that are wrong. There’s a tipping point when any more negative feedback could shatter their confidence. If it’s really bad work, I ask them to stop and have a different kind of discussion. There are times where you may need just to say, ‘Stop, we need to reset.’"

When sharing constructive design feedback, it’s important that you’re not only focusing on all of the changes you need to make. It can feel incredibly overwhelming for a designer to open up their design file and find notes scribbled all over the document.

Instead, as Greg mentioned, start with all of the things you loved about the piece and their work and then move onto the constructive feedback or changes you had in mind.

Wrapping up

When delivered the right way, feedback can accelerate the graphic design process, keep your designers engaged in the work they’re doing, and deliver a better final result. But, it’s important that, as you scale your design team, your feedback process scales with it.

So, the next time you deliver design feedback, don’t forget to:

  • Be specific
  • Leverage the right tools
  • Describe the problems, not just the solutions
  • Implement a standardized revision model

If you’d like to learn more about how to scale your design team and your feedback processes, check out The Future of Design Ops. In this eBook, you’ll access insights from Pinterest’s former Head of Design Ops, Meredith Black, Amazon’s Creative Operations Manager, Jason Henrickson, and many others who are blazing the trail.

Download our Design Operations Guide with in-depth practical tips to get your designOps team started at your organization and see what value they drive from aesthetics to the bottom line.

Download the ebook
Published: Jan 10, 2021
Team Superside
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Team Superside
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