Receiving feedback and iterating on creative work is a huge part of what we do every day at Constructive. Whether we’re conducting an internal review between our designers and art directors, or discussing work with clients, collaboration is crucial to improving our work.
It’s easy to go through the motions of this feedback loop without thinking critically about how to optimize the delivery of feedback when deadlines are approaching, budgets are tight, and multiple projects are being juggled. In my role as a project manager, I’ve experienced countless meetings to discuss feedback and seen teams (ours, and our clients) use different tactics to deliver feedback with varying degrees of success. What I’ve found is that the difference between good and bad feedback can make a real impact on the final output and overall success of a project, so I believe it’s worth paying attention to. So much so that I want to share some tips on how you can give great design feedback.
How to Give Great Design Feedback
1. Ask questions
A successful design process is collaborative, and by asking thoughtful questions, communication between the client and the design team is strengthened. Rather than sending a list of specific changes that need to be made, posing questions opens up the lines of communication, encourages further discussion, and ensures that no assumptions are being made. Ultimately, we look to our clients for their expertise in the issue areas they work in, and often times we learn more about their needs and their audiences’ needs when they question our design choices and conversation ensues.
2. Communicate problems, not solutions
It can be tempting to review a design and propose solutions to things you don’t think are working. Instead, communicate what the problem is, and why said design decision is troublesome. For example, if you don’t like the placement of a newsletter call-to-action and suggest moving it to another page, telling us more about why users might be more inclined to sign up for the newsletter when reading another content type (news updates vs. insights for example), will give us more insight about your audience and help us propose better solutions. By describing the problem, you’re equipping the designer with more knowledge to explore other solutions, rather than feeding a solution that might not be the best one.
3. Keep the focus on strategic goals
Visual design can be subjective, so keeping the conversation focused on whether or not the design is meeting the stated goals is a great way to keep feedback discussions productive and move projects in the right direction. Instead of asking yourself if you like the new design, pause to recall the strategic goals and key audiences. Does the design successfully address the needs of the audiences it serves? For example, if the stated goal of a research hub on a website is to be the go-to resource for policymakers in X field, does the layout support their need of finding timely updates and skimming dense articles? If so, great! If not, it’s the right time to start asking questions and describing the problem (see tip 1 & 2).
4. Consolidate feedback
Establishing a clear process for feedback delivery is critical to the success of a project, even more so when many stakeholders are involved. Consider this example: several stakeholders are reviewing a design mockup and provide comments that contradict one another. Some think highlighting metrics on a grantee’s performance will be too difficult to maintain on the website, while others feel strongly they should be included. Not only does sorting through this feedback take time, it also puts the onus on the designer to makes sense of competing opinions and decide which one is a priority.
To avoid this cringe-inducing scenario (a project manager’s worst nightmare) we ask our clients to deliver feedback that’s representative of the client team’s final opinions. When projects warrant it, we advise clients to define roles on a project using a RACI matrix, or responsibility assignment matrix. We suggest having one team member be “responsible” for delivering feedback, but ensure those who need to be “consulted” had a chance to voice their opinions.
5. Don’t forget to share the good
Everyone likes to receive affirmation on a job well done. Even though feedback meetings typically focus more on ways to improve work, we love it when clients share what’s working really well within a design. Not only does this pat on the back give us encouragement to keep working hard for our clients, but it also allows us to build up a knowledge base of what our clients like so that we can bring more ideas to the table that align with their tastes.
Paying attention to the way in which design feedback is delivered can have a real impact on the success of a project. By implementing these five tips, collaboration is fostered, roles are defined, strategic goals are brought to the forefront of decision-making, and projects can run a little more smoothly.