Giving feedback: 7 best practices and how to improve

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giving feedback

This post is about getting better at giving feedback, which is absolutely crucial in design processes. And this is in its broadest sense: Anyone creating something — a website, a business, a film, a VR game, a city plan, a news article — needs to get feedback. And hence need people to give it to them. Practicing giving feedback and being strategic about it is useful in many aspects of your professional (and personal) life, so don’t assume it a no-brainer, and start paying attention to best practices.

1. Focus on the ball

Don’t get personal. And this goes both ways. Getting feedback can be intimidating if you attach yourself to the design. In contrary, if you, in giving feedback, comment on the designer’s skills, experience or phrase what you believe to be a wrong design move as “their choice”, then you’re missing the target and the designer will probably take on a defensive stance. What we’re addressing is the design.

2. Start by saying something nice

The sandwich model is a way to practice this — start by stating what you like about the design or idea. This doesn’t mean you should lie or swallow in it, but rather emphasise the good parts, that are almost always present in some way. By starting out with something positive, the designer will become much more open to the following critique. A common mistake in using the sandwich model is to blur whether you’re generally happy or unhappy with the design, by emphasising both good and bad aspects. Don’t fool the designer, be clear about your overall opinion.

3. Relate to the goal of the project

“I think” is fine. But what’s even better is relating your personal opinion with the intended purpose of the design. So, “I think the layout works great, it’s definitely less crowded like the users wished it”. This of course requires you to know the goal of the project, so go ahead and ask for it before giving any feedback.

Another model is to glance at the design, give feedback, receive information about the intended purpose and give feedback again. That way the designer will get knowledgeable about both your unspoiled opinion and in relation to the design.

4. Relate to the previous version

You might be asked to give feedback on a design several times during its iterations. Each time you should relate it to the previous versions to give the designer a sense of progression, which is a great motivation, and add context to your feedback, which strengthens its legitimacy.

5. Be constructive

“I don’t think it fits the goal of the design”. Okay, but then what do we change? Provide directions for future design choices, don’t just comment on the current state. If you like the design, you can always provide constructive guidelines, but be sure to let the designer know that you’re a fan of the overall quality.

6. State what you know, and what you don’t

“I’m a designer, I can’t comment on whether or not this would fit real estate agents” or “I’m just a real estate agent, I can’t say whether or not this is a modern type of design, but I like it.” It’s useful to be explicit about the profile you’re bringing into the feedback session, and thus what type of filter the designer should have toward you. This isn’t a bad thing, but a necessary tool in acquiring and analysing valid qualitative feedback. So contemplate on what you’re bringing to the table and speak up.

7. Taste, quality, intention

It’s central to differentiate between:

Taste — your personal preferences

Quality — your professional evaluation

Intention — your judgement of whether or not the design successfully addresses its intention

If you remember one thing from this post, let this be it. Clearly define what your feedback springs from.