Mastering the skill of giving feedback on creative design

Mastering the skill of giving feedback. Smiley faces from unhappy to happy. Red, orange, yellow, blue, green.

Great design doesn’t just happen. Most often, a team of people is involved in creating designs that inspire. Each member of that team brings a different skill set and vantage point. The key is working together and leveraging different strengths and creative viewpoints by communicating clearly with one another. Creativity thrives in a collaborative environment.

Creativity thrives with collaboration. Single person to a group of people. Creativity growth.

This is easier said than done. Often, ideas get lost in translation. From the first step of briefing in a vision to initial designs being created and the resulting feedback loop – there are many points in the design process, where articulating a vision and providing feedback is vital.

Feedback is much art as it is science… it is not as much what is said, as what is heard, understood, and acted upon.

Michael Gough, VP, Product Design, Uber

There are repercussions if this is not done well. At a minimum, the design process is delayed when a discussion goes wrong. Our aim is to give you and your team key tips for providing feedback that inspires amazing design.

Be objective

When you first see a design concept, pause before giving your gut reaction. Whether positive or negative, you are providing a personal judgment rather than constructive feedback.

Feedback is best when it is related back to the original objective of the design brief or common practice. By measuring a design against its objective, you are analyzing the design to ensure that it meets the goal of the creative piece.

A basic critique framework to adopt is:

Ideal steps to work through design-follow chart: the objective of the design? Elements.
Source: Discussing Design by Adam Connor & Aaron Irizarry

What is the objective of the design?

Clear objectives are vital to good design. Without design goals, you are designing with no obvious direction, purpose, and intent. Objectives not only guide your design process, but also allow you to measure your results against.

It is important that you include both the functional and non-functional qualities of a design.

Functionality in design is achieved by taking the pertinent information and making it easy for the viewer to understand and access. A question to check for functionality is: Does the design communicate its main purpose? To ensure clarity, it is advised to create a hierarchy of important information in your design.

Considerations for your design should include:

  • what the core brand elements are
  • who your target audience is
  • what unique insights do you want to convey
  • where this design will be seen or how it will be used.

Non-functional elements of design mean that it is aesthetically pleasing. Characteristics of good design are that it is:

  • memorable
  • clear
  • credible
  • relevant
  • special and unique.

Be specific

To get to a final design that inspires, it is vital for the feedback to be specific. There is nothing worse than vague feedback. It leads to confusion as to what things are working and what needs tweaking to meet your vision.

What elements of the design area are related to the objective?

When providing feedback, be clear about what parts of the design are not meeting its objective. Some example questions to consider:

  • Is the logo, font styles, colors, etc, on-brand and conforming to brand guidelines?
  • Does the background color choice and imagery convey the right feeling?
  • Does the layout highlight the key piece of information and draw the eye of the audience?
  • Could something use better alignment or is there something not in the right place?
  • Are all the elements meeting the feel of the brief?
  • Is it suitable and appealing to the target audience?

Be collaborative

Design is about collaboration. Every member of your team has different viewpoints that can add a valuable perspective to your design. Their views will be formed by their culture, past experiences, and the role they have in your team. To achieve a successful critique process, it is important that every opinion is heard.

We believe that sometimes the smallest voices can make the biggest impact.

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Are those elements effective in achieving the objective?

We suggest using a ladder of feedback when measuring designs against their objectives. By using this step-by-step process with your team, a structure is created for providing feedback. By beginning a conversation with clarifying understanding, it is said to encourage a culture of trust in your team.

The steps of providing objective feedback are:

  • Clarify – by asking questions to clarify the design, you will gain an understanding of why a certain path was chosen.
  • Value – comment on the strength of the work. Express what is working, is strong, shows thought, or is engaging about the design.
  • Question & concerns – raise questions or concerns about the design. Share where you feel that the design is not meeting its objective.
  • Suggest – suggest areas where you feel the design could be stronger. For reviewing designs, avoid problem-solving. It is important not to jump from analyzing to creative thinking. Your role is to review any design against the objective of the design.
Ladder describing the feedback process: Suggest, question, value, clarify. Giving feedback on creative design.

Summary

Creative design is subjective. Therefore, it is vital to provide your feedback in a way that is constructive. It is important to be objective by measuring your response against the goal of the design – both the functional and non-functional elements. By being specific about what your feedback relates to, avoids confusion. To build a culture of trust and creativity, be collaborative. Mastering the art of feedback means you may just inspire great design.