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3 Ways to Give Great Design Feedback

Ravi Rajan is a program director working in India. He writes articles on management, creativity, and creating user-centric design philosophy

Good design is supposed to hide itself. Most people do not acknowledge great design because well-designed things always take a back seat to the experience they create.

Good design is supposed to hide itself. Most people do not acknowledge great design because well-designed things always take a back seat to the experience they create.

Good Design Is Rarely Recognized

Don't believe me? OK. Do one thing. Go to Google's home page and search for anything of your choice. Go ahead; type whatever you want to search.

Your sequence of activities will be as follows:

  • You went to the google page and put some words in the search box.
  • You get the results in milliseconds.
  • You clicked on one or two links and got what you wanted.
  • End of story.

Did you miss something here? The Google home page is the epitome of good design due to its ultra-simplicity and high user experience. And yet you did not even stop to admire its interface for one second. I bet the thought, wow, this is well designed, would have never crossed your mind.

Do not feel guilty. You are not at fault here. Good design is supposed to hide itself. Most people do not acknowledge great design because well-designed things always take a back seat to the experience they create. A designer may recognize design's fundamental role in making great experiences possible, but most people do not.

“Good designers are tailors, and bad ones are real estate agents.”

“Good designers are tailors, and bad ones are real estate agents.”

Good Designers Have Opinions

On the other hand, people do recognize the bad design, and bad design cannot be hidden. More than developing a good design, a designer must deal with bad design and successfully fend it off despite extremely lopsided odds or pressure (read power).

That is why Chris Lema, a freelance designer says aptly,

“Good designers are tailors, and bad ones are real estate agents.”

Real estate agents can help you find the perfect house. They are paid once you get the house. But they get paid, irrespective of whether you have good taste or bad in your selection of home.

On the other hand, a tailor gets paid once you get what you want, but their job is to make you look good. They get future work only once they make you look good.

In short, a tailor has an opinion, and his opinion matters. Good designers also have opinions. So, if somebody comes up with a design idea (good or bad), they have a strong opinion about it. If it is good, they will go and implement it. If it is terrible, they will not succumb to the pressure and will tell them precisely why it is awful. In other words, the design is not all about you. It is all about rendering the best possible service to somebody else.

And here are three ways to give a constructive design feedback:

  1. Lose the Ego
  2. Do not accuse. Explain
  3. Act like an expert (not a jerk)
The 1st step is to leave your ego at home. You might be the greatest designer on earth, but you don't have a monopoly over good ideas. So, it makes sense to keep an open and objective mind.

The 1st step is to leave your ego at home. You might be the greatest designer on earth, but you don't have a monopoly over good ideas. So, it makes sense to keep an open and objective mind.

1. Lose the Ego

The 1st step is to leave your ego at home. You might be the greatest designer on earth, but you don't have a monopoly over good ideas. So, it makes sense to keep an open and objective mind.

Diversity of perspectives leads to more effective design. It may be the case that those making the suggestions have little design knowledge but may have a different kind of expertise or experience that you lack. So, respect that. Acting like the czar of design stifles others' creativity, ultimately leading to poorer outcomes.

At the same time, you should have a point of view. There is a difference between ego-fueled design and design built with a point of view. Ego control only means putting "me" out of the equation so that you can honestly look at the work and establish a point of view that will improve the design.

Remember, ego-control does not mean less of you. It means less pressure to prove who you are and more effort into respecting the good nuggets in the bad.

Understand the objective behind the design. Is he thinking of a different user group or business need? Keep asking "what?" and "why?" until you understand that problem.

Understand the objective behind the design. Is he thinking of a different user group or business need? Keep asking "what?" and "why?" until you understand that problem.

2. Do Not Accuse. Explain

Understand the objective behind the design. Is he thinking of a different user group or business need? Keep asking "what?" and "why?" until you understand that problem.

Once you identify the idea's origin, you can break it down into the benefits and the problems. No idea is 100% bad; it will indeed have elements of good design, however minimal it might be.

For example, using a hamburger menu for the large-screen version of a website impairs users' ability to navigate easily. This is a significant reason not to use it. However, a hamburger on a desktop also presents a visually appealing, uncluttered header. This is a trade-off that needs to be assessed objectively.

Acknowledge the benefits. Here is your chance to be diplomatic. Praise and highlight the good pieces and strongly oppose the bad ones. Mention in clear objective terms unless the bad ones are removed or updated, the good ones will be lost, and the design will ultimately fail.

For example, your client has said for the third time that the way you have arranged elements in the header is “just not quite right” and has proposed something terrible. Rather than entering an endless cycle of “no,” this is a chance for you to explain the rationale behind the design decision and why his design is terrible.

It is necessary to explain the design rationale because it will become a subjective opinion game without an explanation, and nobody wants to lose in opinion games. Logic is the only saving factor here.

There is a right way of saying "no." There is also a wrong way of saying "no." Good designers always use the design thinking philosophy of ideation, research, and user feedback before trashing any design.

There is a right way of saying "no." There is also a wrong way of saying "no." Good designers always use the design thinking philosophy of ideation, research, and user feedback before trashing any design.

3. Act Like an Expert (Not a Jerk)

There is a right way of saying "no." There is also a wrong way of saying "no." Good designers always use the design thinking philosophy of ideation, research, and user feedback before trashing any design.

Identifying an idea's pros and cons might require doing the following.

  • Reviewing previous data if the idea has been tested.
  • Building a prototype either as a POV or A/B test
  • Identifying and validating its alignment with industry best practices.
  • Cost implications and the trade-offs that might have to be done to implement it.

Once your assessment determines the idea should not be implemented, you can say no in a positive way. Let them know that you were really listening during their proposal, you’ve done some research of your own, and according to that research, your design only may bring the desired results than what they are saying. If you really want to go the extra mile, have some studies on hand that back it up.

You are the expert, and if you prove it with data, nobody will say or argue any further.

It would help if you acknowledged that they had tried and valued their effort. The moment people are engaged enough to appreciate your feedback is the ideal time to help them learn more about design and spread the design knowledge.

It would help if you acknowledged that they had tried and valued their effort. The moment people are engaged enough to appreciate your feedback is the ideal time to help them learn more about design and spread the design knowledge.

Last Thoughts

Lastly, use the correct language for the right situation.

It would help if you acknowledged that they had tried and valued their effort. The moment people are engaged enough to appreciate your feedback is the ideal time to help them learn more about design and spread the design knowledge throughout your team. Take advantage of these teachable moments by communicating your assessment's reasoning and making it a learning experience for all.

You can go one step further by involving all of them early in the design process to foster a collaborative environment. You can make everyone contribute by seeking input in a structured manner, such as through scheduled workshops, roadshows, etc.

Remember, a proactive, collaborative approach is any day better than a reactive "bad-idea" deflecting approach. Be inclusive. Let everybody be part of your design. Be the tailor who makes everybody look good.

As H.E. Luccock has rightly said,

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

Sources

  • The paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz
  • Clean Design: Wellness for your Lifestyle by Robin Wilson
  • Design for How People Think by John Whalen PhD
  • User-Centered Design: A Developer's Guide to Building User-Friendly Applications by Travis Lowdermilk
  • The Tao of Design and User Experience: The Best Experience is No Experience by Andrew Ou
  • The Basics of User Experience Design: A UX Design Book by the Interaction Design Foundation by Mads Soegaard
  • Design as Art by Bruno Munari

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan