Feedback can be a bit of a touchy subject for designers, project managers and clients alike. If handled poorly, feedback can often do more damage than good. But when feedback is handled correctly, it is incredibly valuable and ensures that a design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but useful for its intended audience.
Unfortunately, a lot of clients or project managers who work with designers often find themselves at a bit of a loss when it comes to giving constructive and useful feedback. In this article, I want to lay out a few key points that will help anyone to feel confident that the feedback they are giving, or the feedback they are asking for, will be valuable to the project.
Mutual understanding is key to a good working relationship between a designer and a client. Each have their role in a project and each are contributing to the same goal, even though it can sometimes feel like you are at odds with each other.
Always keep in mind that you are working towards the same goal. If you make sure that your designer fully understands your expectations and what it is that you’re trying to achieve with the project, you can trust that the design decisions they make are informed by those aspirations.
Establish a solid foundation of trust at the start of your project. In this you can always be sure that the opinions of both you and your designer are respected and valued, and you can avoid a lot of frustration and tension down the road.
One of the keys to giving valuable feedback and critique is knowing where it’s appropriate. Feedback should be given often. It shouldn’t ever be general and it definitely shouldn’t be left until the very end of the project. One of the worst experiences for a designer is to spend a huge amount of time working on something, only to realise that they are on a totally different page to the client, and they have to start again.
Feedback along the lines of “I think we need to change direction” can be devastating at a late stage in a project, but it can be just what the project needs in the ideation stage. Break your projects down in to stages, figure out where feedback should be given, and establish what kind of feedback will be relevant at that stage.
Once you have established an outline for where you will give feedback at different stages in a project, spell out exactly what should be delivered at those stages. It is difficult to focus your feedback if your designer is delivering you pixel-perfect web designs and asking you to only give feedback on the copy. Keep deliverables relevant to each stage of the project, and relevant to the feedback expected i.e. wireframes for layout, documents for copy, high-fidelity mockups for colours and images etc.
When giving feedback, there are a couple of common pitfalls that both a client / project manager should be aware of. I’ve broken these down in to three sections:
Always try to deliver feedback face to face, or failing that over the phone or video chat. It’s tempting to draft a big list of changes in an email and shoot it over to your designer, but it is almost always better to speak to your designer when giving constructive feedback. Especially in the early stages of a project, discussion is the best way to establish mutual trust and understanding with your designer and make sure that you are both on the same page. Discuss your brief, your expectations, and the stages at which you’ll give feedback.
Be sure that you always have your audience in mind when you are giving feedback to your designer. Everybody has their specific taste and opinion when it comes to aesthetic design, but in order to give relevant feedback, you need to make sure you are considering the tastes and opinions of your audience first. If you like a certain font or colour, consider whether using it will improve the experience for your audience first, before asking the designer to incorporate it.
Try to the best of your ability to avoid giving blunt, general feedback. For instance, ‘The website menu looks weird the left hand side of the page’. When approaching part of a design that you don’t like, or don’t think works well, open a dialogue with your designer. If your website design has a menu in a place that seems strange to you, you could better handle that by asking:
‘I’m used to seeing menus at the top of the website, is there a reason you chose to have the menu on the left?’
If your designer put that menu there for a reason, they will explain that to you, and if they’re good at their job, it should be a good enough reason to convince you to leave it as is. If not, encourage the designer to consider an alternate solution rather than insisting they change it. For example ‘I feel like this menu design might present a problem to a large portion of our audience who aren’t used to non-traditional website designs, could you try to accomodate these users with your design?’
Don’t only focus on negative feedback. If there are aspects of a design that you like, make sure you tell your designer! Positive feedback keeps designers on track and confirms for them that they’re doing the right thing.
Negative feedback is often necessary, but try to be level headed and consider the previous points when critiquing a design. Consider your audience first, and discuss the feedback with your designer. You don’t want to make your designer feel defensive, but at the same time they should be capable of defending their choices, and it’s your responsibility (particularly as a project manager) to make sure their choices make sense in the larger context of the project.
So that’s it! I hope you’ve discovered something useful about feedback in this article, and if not, maybe send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss the points you think I could improve ;)
This is part two in a series I’m writing on working well with designers. The first part dealt with writing great briefs and the next part will deal with how to find a designer / agency that is right for your project, and how to cut through the BS.