Giving constructive design feedback

Imagine this situation: Someone comes to you and asks:

“What do you think of this design?”

You then see that what they’ve created doesn’t look very good. In fact, it looks so bad you don’t even know where to start with your feedback.

All designers have been in this situation several times in their career, sometimes on things that can be, erm, quite painful to look at for a trained pair of eyes. From being angry and almost in despair to being mature, serene and genuinely try to help, we, designers, have some techniques to help giving constructive and useful feedback.

These are techniques I use every time I’m asked to evaluate someone’s design work (and that I also find helpful when someone is giving feedback on my work):

1. First: Look for the positives

Start by looking for all the good things and things that work in the design. And then give your feedback on those. By giving positive feedback first, you’ll show respect for all the work they’ve done and it’s more likely that they’ll to be open to hear the following criticism.

2. Think before you speak

Take your time, don’t rush to speak immediately. And look carefully. Keep in mind that what you see has probably been done by conscious decision by whoever created it.

3. Pick 1 thing

If you had to pick 1 thing that would make a major difference on the design, what would that be? Things to look out for: colours, position and alignment of elements on the page,  hierarchy of information, general concept and idea, visual style, sizes of elements.

4. Understand why

Once you picked the thing, understand why it’s been done the way it is. Consider the fact that the person might already have thought about what you are going to say and may have made a conscious decision. It could be for technical reasons, requirements restrictions, time, all sorts of things. Ask them.

5. Say what you think the problem is

Don’t try to solve it, say what the problem is. For example, “this button is not prominent enough”, “this colour is not in line with the rest of the design”, “this area is a bit confusing”. Be tactful on how you say it. You might want to use sentences like “Maybe this…” “I’m not sure about…” “Do you think this could be…”

Repeat 3-4-5

Repeat 3-4-5 as much as you need. This process may sound like it’s long but in reality it’s a quick thought process and conversation. Once you’ve done this a few times, it’ll just come naturally.