Feedback is a necessary step in any collaborative creative effort, both solicited from our peers and our clients. It helps us stay objective, see other points of view, and gets us closer to hitting our targets on a given project. It’s a fundamental step in good, purposeful design. While I could probably write a whole book on this subject, here’s a couple of great starting points in giving better feedback as a peer or client, and receiving (and what to do with it) as a designer.

For Those Providing Feedback:

Focus on the established objectives of the project.

Always start here. Before you say anything, ask yourself if the feedback you’re about to give aligns with the agreed upon goals. This helps projects move forward and helps keep everyone aligned in shared goals. We all have personal aesthetic preferences and it’s extremely easy to reference those in giving feedback. You liking the color blue is not feedback that will help push a project towards its goals. You suggesting blues because you feel the color scheme might speak to the audience it’s intended for is a valuable critique.

Be concise.

Keep your feedback actionable. Refrain from giving feedback with “airy” language or that might be seen as subjective. If you give a visual reference to something, break down why you think this may be a good solution, or what about that solution might help meet the goal of the project. “Make it pop” is not actionable feedback. Stop and think. What is “it” and how in the hell does one make it “pop”? Are the colors too dull? Is the type not bold enough? Be concise and actionable. This will save you and your team time.

Ask questions. Even better, reframe suggestions as questions.

Working with a designer or agency should be a collaborative process. Coming hot out of the gate with suggestions can sometimes be overwhelming and leave no room for discussion. Asking questions will help you get more insight into certain choices that were made and make the designer think of alternatives in their next iterations. Designers ask questions to gain greater insight, doing the same can help push the project forward towards its end goal.

Be respectful.

There’s no easier way to put a damper on a project than being disrespectful in giving a critique. Keep your feedback focused on the task at hand and try to remain objective. You’re more likely to be heard out and it will keep the project healthy.

For Those Receiving Feedback:

Make sure your process is conducive to early feedback.

There is nothing worse than feeling like you dumped a ton of time into a project only to have feedback roll in that causes you to take three steps back. Ask for critique early and often, and make sure your process allows for this. Early feedback makes it easier to identify potential pitfalls and concerns. Rough proofs, works in progress, wireframes, and site maps are a great starting point to make sure you’re on track to meeting the goals of the project.

Be open and don’t be defensive.

Let’s get this out of the way, design is not fine-art. Your self-expression is not the crux of the project, the agreed upon objectives are. Feedback is not a personal attack on your abilities as a designer or problem solver. It’s a way to gain insight and to think about things from outside perspectives. It’s to the benefit of the goal. Its to benefit you. Being defensive only serves to deny yourself an opportunity to move a project closer to its target and improve your design thinking. However, it is okay to take feedback with a grain of salt, as long as you have a valid defense. You do not have to act on every point of feedback, just don’t leave your team hanging as to why.

Listen and ask questions.

Don’t just hear the feedback, but actually listen to it and engage with it. Dig deeper and follow up with questions to gain greater insight. This can help you identify any pain-points in a project as you go along and can help you get to the solution quicker. It keeps the engagement collaborative and you on the right track.

Be respectful.

It is okay to push back on critiques, but be respectful. Nobody wants to deal with a primadonna. Be objective and make sure your reasoning is sound. People are more likely to see your point if you are respectful.

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