Receiving feedback and iterating on creative work is a huge part of what we do every day at Constructive. Whether we're conducting an internal review with our designers and art directors, or discussing work with clients, collaboration is crucial to improving our work.
That said, it's easy to go through the motions without thinking critically about how to optimize the delivery of feedback when deadlines are approaching, budgets are tight, and multiple projects are being juggled. In my role as a project manager, I've sat in countless meetings to review feedback and have seen teams (ours and our clients) use different tactics to deliver that feedback, with varying degrees of success. What I've learned from the experience is that the difference between good and bad feedback can have a real impact on the overall success of a project and, therefore, is worth paying attention to. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few tips on how you can give great design feedback.
How to Give Great Design Feedback
1. Ask questions. A successful design process is by definition collaborative, and asking thoughtful questions only serves to strengthen that process. By posing questions rather than sending the design team a list of specific changes it needs to make, a client can open up lines of communication, encourage further discussion, and ensure that assumptions (false or otherwise) aren't inadvertently baked into the cake. Ultimately, a design team looks to its clients for their expertise in their particular issue area, and often it will learn more about a client's (and the client's audiences') needs when the client questions its design choices and a healthy conversation ensues.
2. Communicate problems, not solutions. It can be tempting to review a design and propose solutions to things you don't think are working. A better approach is to communicate what the problem is and why the said design decision is problematic. For example, if you don't like the placement of a newsletter call-to-action and want to see it moved to another page, telling us why you think your website visitors are more likely to sign up for your newsletter when engaged with another content type (news updates vs. insights, for example) will give us more insight about your audience and help us offer a better solution. By describing the problem, you're equipping the design team with information needed to explore other solutions, rather than spoon-feeding the team a solution that might not be the best one.
3. Keep the focus on strategic goals. Visual design can be subjective, so keeping the conversation focused on whether or not the design is meeting the stated goals is a great way to keep feedback discussions productive and projects moving in the right direction. Instead of asking yourself whether you like the new design, remind yourself about the project's strategic goals. Does the design successfully address the needs of the audiences you serve? For example, if the stated goal of a research hub is to be the go-to resource for policy makers in a field, does the layout support their need to get timely updates and be able to skim dense articles? If so, great! If not, it's probably a good time to start asking questions and describing the problem (see tips 1 and 2).
4. Consolidate feedback. Establishing a clear process for delivering feedback is critical to the success of a project — even more so when multiple stakeholders are involved. Consider: several stakeholders are reviewing a design mockup and provide comments that contradict one another. Some think highlighting the metrics related to a grantee's performance will be too difficult to maintain on the website, while others feel strongly they should be included. Not only does sorting through the conflicting feedback take time, it also puts the onus on the design team to make sense of the competing views and decide which one should be implemented.
To avoid such a scenario (a project manager's worst nightmare), we ask our clients to deliver feedback that reflects their final decision. And when a project warrants it, we advise clients to define specific project roles using a RACI matrix (responsibility assignment matrix). For instance, we recommend having one team member be "responsible" for delivering feedback and ensuring those who need to be "consulted" on the final decision have had a chance to voice their opinion.
5. Don't forget to share the good. Everyone likes to receive affirmation on a job well done. Even though feedback meetings typically focus more on ways to improve work, we love it when clients share what's working really well within a design. Not only does the pat on the back encourage us to keep working hard, it also allows us to build up a knowledge base of what the client likes so that we can bring more ideas to the table aligned with their design ideas and preferences.
Paying attention to the way in which design feedback is delivered can have a real impact on the success of a project. By implementing these five tips, you'll be doing your part to make sure the design process is collaborative, team roles are defined, strategic goals figure into decision-making, and projects run a little more smoothly.
Lily Moaba is a senior project manager at Constructive and collaborates with the firm's clients and internal team to keep projects moving, ensuring everyone remains focused on priorities, deadlines, and deliverables. before joining Constructive, she managed strategic partnerships and technology projects for American Corporate Partners for three years and spent time as a research assistant for the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. A version of this article appears on the Constructive site.