Mastering the Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback on Design Work
by Linn Vizard
posted on 05-24-2018
From your first design school project to your freelance work or day job, giving and receiving feedback is a fundamental part of being a designer. At its worst, a critique of your work can feel personal, unproductive, or just plain confusing. At its best, feedback is inspiring, opens up new possibilities, and elevates your work to the next level. A design career will involve many opportunities to both give and receive feedback, and there are ways to practice making both roles as fruitful as possible.
3 tips for giving effective and useful constructive criticism
Being in the position of giving feedback is not to be taken lightly. Being invited to give feedback is an act of trust on the part of your team and colleagues. Some ways to ensure you maximize the efficacy and usefulness of your feedback are:
- Cultivate the right mindset. Intention sets the stage for giving great feedback. A humble approach during any critique means that you are not focused on looking good or posturing, instead you are primarily concerned with being as helpful as possible. This also means doing your best to take your own personal goals or agenda off the table, and listening closely to what the designer is trying to achieve. A further key mindset for giving effective feedback is accepting that your feedback and input may or may not be actioned. When we give feedback from a genuine place, we are not attached to a specific outcome, other than enabling the designer to make the best choices within their sets of constraints.
- Ensure your feedback is solicited. There’s nothing worse than untimely, irrelevant, or simply unwanted feedback or critique. Commenting on work in progress while someone is in the middle of hashing out user flows or trying to power through work is unproductive and likely to rub the best of us the wrong way. Save your design critique for formal design feedback sessions. (Don’t have one at your organization? Maybe you can champion setting them up.) If you see another designer’s work and genuinely feel you have something constructive to offer, ask if they would be open to setting some time aside to hear your feedback. If they say no, accept it. If someone is not ready to listen to feedback, they are unlikely to gain any benefit from it.
- Be specific in relating critique to the objective. In order to think critically and analytically about a piece of design work, you need to be very clear on what the objective is. A prerequisite to a useful critique is clarity on the constraints and objectives of the design. Following that, rooting your feedback in critical thinking about how well the design meets the objective and being very specific with your commentary will maximize its utility. Avoid coming from a place of gut reaction or emotional response to work, and/or offering comments based on personal preferences.
3 tips for receiving and incorporating feedback
Listening to and processing feedback is a useful skill for designers to develop. Even though it can feel scary and vulnerable, practice and experience help to overcome these jitters. In addition, here are approaches to getting the most from feedback when you are on the receiving end.
- Be in the driver’s seat. It might not seem like it, but as the person whose work is being critiqued, you can (and should) take control. A lot of feedback sessions feel haphazard or unhelpful due to unclear set-up and expectations. As the receiver, it is up to you to set the context and focus of what feedback will be most helpful to you. Clearly set the objective of the design, the constraints you are working with, and the type of feedback you are looking for at the outset of the session. It’s also up to you to decide what feedback you would like to take on and implement, and what to leave behind. You have the power to not react to everything as a change request or something that has to be actioned.
- Find a gracious openness. So much of how you receive feedback depends on your ability to separate yourself from your work. Remembering that you are not your work, and that feedback (with the right intention) is not personal will enable you to stay open to critique. Keeping an open mindset while listening to feedback means not getting defensive. Instead, focus on understanding the rationale behind the comments by asking clarifying questions, and setting boundaries through emphasizing the type of feedback that is most helpful.
- Switch-on active listening. Receiving feedback is a great time to turn on your active listening skills. Resist the instinct to immediately defend or push back on a critique. Instead, repeat what you are hearing to the person giving feedback. Allow them to confirm or clarify your understanding. You can also ask probing questions to understand what’s behind certain comments or to go deeper. Active listening requires us to set aside our immediate reactions and responses, and instead focus on building a clear and deep understanding of the speaker’s intentions.
Feedback is a gift
It might not always seem like it, but the best feedback is a true gift. It is given without expectation, with the intention of being truly helpful and supportive. You can develop giving great feedback like any other skill, taking measures to ensure it is invited and specific. When you’re on the other side of the equation — receiving feedback — finding an openness and sense of control while actively listening will help smooth the process.
In both roles of feedback giver and receiver, one of the best ways to develop a culture of feedback is to model the desired behavior in these roles for others on your team and in your organization.
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