Giving effective feedback
Your input is important and totally necessary to guide my work. I may not get everything right on the first try. That’s not just okay; it’s part of the process. Our work together can (and probably will) be iterative.
Here’s how you can provide me with effective feedback, so I can really earn the money you’re paying me for your site. The magic happens when your hard-earned skills and expertise come together with mine.
If you don’t like something, I need to know – now, not three weeks down the road.
Point out what, exactly, is not working for you, and why it’s not working.
If you aren’t sure what I was thinking, I’d love to explain my reasoning. Everything I’ve done for the project has a purpose.
Refer to your goals.
Relate every piece of criticism back to your goals.
Relate to your audience.
Your audience should be top of mind for every decision or critique that you provide. What do they need? What will they love?
Not So Effective Feedback
Involve everyone you know in the creative process.
I work best when you alone serve as the expert on your company and its audience. Art made by committee is rarely successful.
Take things personally.
If I missed the mark, we need to figure out why and move closer to our mutual target. If I disagree with you, it’s because I’m thinking about your goals and your audience. It’s not personal, it’s business.
Do my work for me.
Please give me written or verbal instructions about what isn’t working; don’t redo my work to illustrate your point.
You’re paying me to provide solutions. Explain the problem and I’ll pitch potential fixes to you, based on my research, experience and skills.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once received a call from the President at the time, Lyndon Johnson. When his housekeeper, Emily, answered the phone, she told the President he had said not to be disturbed. “Wake him up. I want to talk to him,” replied the president. Emily replied, “No, Mr. President. I work for him, not for you.” Later, when Galbraith returned Johnson’s call, the President told him that he wanted to hire Emily to come and work at the White House.
6 steps to provide effective design feedback
Design feedback is an integral part of any successful design project, it gives you an opportunity to review and critique a design solution that has been presented. It is the role of the design contact (the representative that liaises with the design team) to collate and manage internal communications at their end and provide the agency with a concise list of feedback.
Below is a step-by-step guide to help you provide any designer with detailed design feedback that will result in the best outcome for any design project.
Step 1 – Start by clarifying the objective
Whether viewing a new design for the first time via email or in person these three questions will set you in good stead for providing effective feedback. Does the design meet my brief? Any design agency worth its salt will produce designs that visually represent the client’s objectives and requirements provided in a well-documented brief. To assist, consider your organisation’s key objectives and discern whether the design team has addressed them.
- Is the design aligned with our organisation’s brand? In most cases, designers work with brand guidelines to ensure the correct imagery, graphics and fonts are used, and that the design adheres to the general rules outlined in the guidelines. However, designers rely on your experience and knowledge of your brand to tell them if they have hit the mark, or if there is room for improvement.
- If your organisation doesn’t have brand guidelines, the process involves looking at existing branded materials and asking specific questions to help ascertain a look and feel that accurately translates the personality of your organisation.
- Does the design contain all relevant content? Having a firm understanding of your content prior to beginning any design process is essential, providing this to your designer prior to the design phase will save valuable time and ensures the designer accommodates all content accordingly.
Step 2 – Be clear
As the old adage says… keep it simple! Providing simple and clear feedback will ensure that the designer will implement feedback accurately, and that means a faster start to your website/print project!
A few pointers on supplying well-formatted feedback:
- Bullet points are best, ideally one for every item that needs to be addressed. This is much more effective than providing a paragraph-based dialogue on what needs to be changed.
- If there’s a lot of feedback, try to break it down by section e.g. per page, or item being delivered like “940px banner”. Simple identifiers like “top-left” or “third section” helps to quickly identify the issue and amend it.
- Screenshots never hurt!
Step 3 – Be specific
It’s not a secret that designers the world over get frustrated with ambiguous feedback that doesn’t really tell us much at all.
In fact, there are websites dedicated to client feedback fashioned into creative and hilarious pieces of art – these posters by Mark Shanley and Paddy Treacy, are original pieces that they and their industry colleagues designed based on “their favourite worst feedback from clients.”
The more specific the feedback, the better. Try to avoid generic comments like “change the font” or “I don’t like the image” that leave designers asking why or to what? Instead provide specific, actionable suggestions. Offer alternatives, sketches and details, and if you’re unhappy with something, give your reasoning; it will take far less time if the designer knows exactly what the issue is.
Step 4 – Be descriptive
The more context and reasoning, the better! In general, comments like, “I just don’t like it,” or, “This sentence isn’t true,” aren’t constructive; they simply don’t provide the detail and necessary guidance to make changes from a design perspective.
Attempt to understand why you don’t like it. Does the page look too busy? Are you finding areas of copy hard to read? Are the colours around the wrong way?
Don’t let this issue overwhelm you; more often than not it’s an easy fix and rarely something to worry about. It can be challenging to put reactions to a design into words especially if you’re not used to critiquing design work, but if you take the time to articulate emotions or questions you’ll have a better chance at attaining your desired outcome.
Step 5 – Be disciplined
Most agencies follow a clear process when working on design projects. Usually there are several ’rounds’ of ‘design’ with ‘design feedback’. Agencies present designs to clients and give them several days (depending on their individual project timeline) to review and consolidate their feedback. The agency then undertakes the first, second and third rounds of revision.
3 Round revision model
- First round: Identify major issues and provide feedback to address them. If you’re presenting a design to stakeholders, use the first round to get the design to a stage where you think you have nailed the brief. This should give it the best chance of success.
- Second round: Confirm that the changes made have resolved the issues identified in the first round; tweak and respond if they don’t. Ensure the design composition is balanced after addressing latest changes. Get any stakeholder feedback required and consolidate into one final group of changes. Let them know there is only one chance to give feedback. If your project is time sensitive, provide all stakeholders with a feedback deadline.
- Final round: Approve the design tweaks and move forward.
Ideally, major issues should be discussed immediately, minor tweaks can be provided at both the first and second round. Round three should be near perfect if you have thoroughly reviewed in previous rounds. When a design pushes into 4th, 5th and 6th rounds of revision there is clearly a problem that has to be addressed. Also known as “design by committee”, this usually indicates that there are multiple stakeholders involved in the project who are giving feedback to the key design contact and this feedback has become disjointed.
It is important to remember (particularly on a website project) that excessive rounds of feedback can throw a project plan (and a design!) out of whack and potentially result in a delay – (that’s like telling our team there is a delay in the release date of the next season of Game of Thrones… a huge disappointment for all!).
My team and I at mikobey.com strive to keep our projects on time and on budget, so if you can prepare yourself in advance by scheduling meetings within your team to collate feedback this will ensure the design phase of your project runs smoothly.
Step 6 – Listen
You’ve no doubt realised by now that designers are a finicky bunch, we like things ‘just so’. My team and I pride ourselves on upholding an exceptionally high-standard of design, and we genuinely want the best outcome possible for our clients. That being said, we will always give our professional advice regarding a piece of design feedback that we don’t agree with.
By now, I hope you have a good understanding of our design process here at mikobey.com as well as some tools to help you manage your next design project. Creating a beautiful and effective web design is a challenging task; it involves distilling vast amounts of information into a visually appealing and balanced composition that appeals to a specific target market. It needs to be an effective communication tool that can successfully market a service or product. It must reflect the organisation’s brand and should be intuitive for the user to interact with, allowing easy access to the information required.
Having succinct and considered feedback is the dream scenario for designers; it allows us to manage the integrity of the design without compromising any of the core functions listed above.