How to make your design feedback super-effective

How can you ensure your design feedback process doesn't get stuck in an endless loop? Here are our top tips....

As the client in a website design project, you might be forgiven for thinking that you can just sit back and let the designers and developers get the job done. But of course, building a successful website is a collaborative process, with lots of key points where your input is required. And one those points is providing feedback on design visuals put in front of you by your designer.

We've seen smooth design feedback processes where everyone is agreed and happy - but we've also seen the whole thing founder in a mass of opinion and ego. So here are some notes on how to provide really effective feedback to your designer, so they can get on with the job of making your website awesome.

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Who's making the decision?

We're starting with the big stuff, here. If you're with a small organisation, it may be obvious who the decision-makers in the process are, but in larger companies it can be a lot less clear. We usually work with marketing teams, and they're responsible for putting across the messaging for the whole company. And that means they've got to take input from across the business.  So often product managers, HR managers, VPs of this and that, and even external consultants get drafted into the design feedback process.  And while it’s vital to get input from across the organisation, it’s also important to know who is making the final decision, and ensure they're available to take part in the process. That helps you to manage expectations internally. And it helps us to avoid acting on feedback which is overridden three weeks later when the CEO gets back from Asia.

Focus on the goals

It’s easy for design feedback to become a mess of conflicting opinions, so keeping the goals of the project in mind is key. We need to distinguish between personal opinions (“I’m not a fan of blue”), and comments on the effectiveness of the design to communicate to its audiences (“I believe engineers will be put off by this approach”). Remember – your stakeholders are NOT your key audience, so what works for them may not be effective for your audience.  To give effective feedback, try to encourage everyone to think less about "do I like it?" and more about “does the design achieve what it needs to?”

Be specific...

When looking at designs, it's easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As human beings, we're great at making judgements on something based on a small part of it (it's known as the halo effect and it's well documented in human psychology). But rather than say "that design is terrible, it's all wrong", try to identify what specifically isn't working for you. Is it too "busy" or is it "dull"? What elements of the design make you think that? Similarly, if you love it, it's great to know why  - partly so we can check that the reasons are aligned with the goals of the project, and partly so we know what's working for you, so when we do the next version we don't accidentally drop something you loved.

... but don’t get too hung up on content specifics

A page with no content is not a design, so by the nature of creating a design we must make some provisional decisions about content. Often we will need to create designs before all the inputs on markets, target audiences, messaging and content have been gathered. And that means we’ll get some things wrong. But the choice of specific content, messaging or images are usually not fixed, especially if we're early on in the design process. Please do give feedback on what needs to be adjusted, but try to separate “that image reflects the wrong market” (okay, thanks, what sort of images would be more appropriate?) from “that design is all wrong” (which can stall discussions). Later in the process you may be asked to confirm some specifics in terms of content, but since every site we build is content managed we're usually only looking to define the "style" of a particular area of the page, not commit to specific content.

Collate into actionable feedback

We've already mentioned taking feedback from across the business. For every extra person you ask, you'll have another handful of comments, some of which may duplicate or contradict previous comments. But a list of all the comments doesn't give your designer "actionable feedback". So we'll ask you to collate everything for us. That means weighing up the comments against the goals of the project, the "importance" of the stakeholder to the business (because let's be honest, the CEO's opinion counts for more than the intern's), and the amount of times the same feeling is expressed. Then you can take the designer through the work step by step, giving constructive, collated feedback that the designer can take away and use to create the next iteration of the design.

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