Three pillars for better design feedback

There is a tool that designers often overlook—feedback. We should work on mastering our ability to discuss our work as hard as we master any other tool which helps us design better.

How do you feel about design feedback in your organisation? Think about it for a moment: Do you feel good about the feedback you get from others? Does it help you grow? Are you confident that your colleagues get useful insights from you?

For me, the answer to these questions is: Not always.

We often struggle to discuss complex topics. For instance, that might be caused by a multitude of reasons, all of which could be tackled within separate articles.

When I reflected on my experience with the discussions about the design, I identified issues that can be classified into three categories, the three pillars for a better discussion:

1. Alignment

Imagine the following situation:

  • You are tasked to design a website for a product that sells to both B2B and B2C segments.
  • You go with striking content, emotive imagery and a single CTA.
  • Now you set up a feedback round with Hellen, a designer and your colleague.
  • She doesn’t know that the B2B segment has a separate marketing strategy and that the website is designed to attract B2C customers only.
  • Since the B2B segment produces more product sales, Hellen proposes to broaden the text content, add more comparisons and emphasise on bulk pricing models.

At this point, you and Hellen aren’t aligned. This happens from time to time. You can fix it just by disclosing the context to Helen and continue with the discussion. However, even then, she might not contribute that well since she was prepared for the meeting not knowing the brief.

If you fail to identify this problem, you might risk ending up repeating your opinions over and over, therefore, failing to create a productive discussion—effectively wasting your time and energy.

Avoid misinterpretation. Prepare for the meeting and align on what’s already set.


2. Focus

So, everybody is aligned and prepared for the meeting when suddenly a notification pops up. Your pickup count in Screen Time increases. Now, you’re drawn away from the discussion.

Sounds familiar? It does to me, at least. Apart from the smartphone issue, there are plenty of other causes that might prevent me from being focused. Does my colleague repeat himself?

My mind drifts away from a meeting room. Am I present in a debate I keep feeling I can’t contribute to? There’s definitely a better use of my time. Does someone have a negative attitude or exercise their ego? Sooner or later, I’ll get affected by such behaviour as well.

If you notice your partner has lost focus, remember it doesn’t always have to be their fault. Ask yourself: Am I brief enough or do I keep rephrasing my stance over and over again? Is this still a discussion, or a monologue?

Consider leaving your phone in another room, or switching it to a flight mode during the meeting. Be brief, don’t repeat yourself and remain engaged

3. Humility

When you are aligned and determined to maintain focus, imagine this:

You came up with the flow for a hotel room booking app, a project you’re currently working on. So, you show it to your colleagues, but they aren’t nearly as excited as you thought they would be. They dismiss it quickly, and it weighs really hard on you.

Now, situations like this make us vulnerable, yes. You open yourself to present a creative work, which you consider bright, and you get turned down right away.

As in the two previous pillars, there are lessons for both sides: the one who presents the design and for those who review it. Both are the lessons of humility:

  • The one who presents the design should exercise their growth mindset, take a critique impersonally and search for what they can learn.
  • The one who reviews the design should remember they are there to collaborate on improvement and the presenter has spent more time thinking about the solution than they did.

The lack of humility is a tricky thing. It can be easily identified on other people, yet super hard to spot on ourselves. Every one of us could benefit from being a bit more humble.

Humility fosters growth.

P.S.: While writing this article, I became an advocate of using the word discussion over feedback: discussion is, by definition, a two-way information exchange while feedback is, more or less, one-way response to a specific performance. If you are reading this, I challenge you: schedule a design discussion with your colleagues and pay attention to the conversation.

You’ll see how easily you can spot the conversation flaws. Let’s have a good design discussion.


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