“Can you make the logo bigger?”

“It needs to pop more”

“Hmm, it’s missing something — can you keep working on it?”

Snark aside — what do these quotes tell us about design feedback?

It’s hard to do! And subjective. And often controversial. And it can hurt projects and teams when it’s done wrong.

However: it’s also really important to have the conversation. When it’s done right, getting feedback on design helps to move it forward, to course correct, and to ensure we’re building the right thing for the right people.

Design is very open to interpretation and subject to different tastes, styles and preferences. It’s a great way to hear a lot of different perspectives and ideas. But it can also be really hard to put those into words. That can cause delays, miscommunications, and confusion.

So how do we give helpful design feedback?

Make sure you’re clear on these things first:

1. What problem have you asked the designer to solve?

Are the parameters for the design clear?

2. Try to keep personal taste out of the equation.

A personal preference for monochrome won’t necessarily be appropriate for a website where the main goal is to get people to sign up to a fundraising event. Who are the audiences you’re designing this project for and what do they need the website to communicate to them? Remain objective.

3. Make sure you’re clear on what the role of design is on the project.

Designers are not marketers or project managers or business development experts. Therefore they won’t necessarily be able to advise on elements like copy, or lead generation best practises. They’re expert problem solvers using design thinking.

So, now you have clarity on your problem statement and project goals, your audiences, and the role of the designer, let’s look at the feedback itself.

Designers are humans, and just like the rest of us they need clarity.

Confusion and conflicting feedback makes it harder to move forwards. Make sure you have a clear feedback process with your team, and that process shouldn’t necessarily be hierarchical: who are the subject matter experts on the team who can give constructive feedback based on their knowledge of the audiences and goals?

That might mean that the CEO shouldn’t automatically get their own way — they probably won’t have all of the key information they need to give helpful feedback. The feedback process should be an equitable process, and not steamrollered by an imbalance of power. This clear feedback process then ensures that the designer isn’t getting conflicting requests from Sally in Accounts and Ted in HR.

Frame your feedback in relation to the project goals.

Do you want the call to action to the annual review to be more prominent because of the blood and tears you put into writing it, or because it’s a key journey for your audiences? Do you want the donation form to capture gender/ethnicity/age/marital status because that’s what you’ve always done or because that data serves a purpose and benefits the user? It’s very easy to do what you’ve always done — and then of course, you’ll get what you’ve always got!

Be open to the designer asking you questions about your feedback. The designer is a problem solver, so they need to ask questions to ensure they understand the problem they need to solve. These questions don’t (always) mean they disagree with you. And if they do disagree with you, that’s OK! Conflict within a safe space can be really healthy for the project and ensure that assumptions are being aired and ironed out.

Try to make your feedback really tangible.

A vague “I don’t like it” hand-wave won’t help move the design forward. Designers are not mind readers, so help them to understand what it is you don’t like, and use the key elements of web design to help you to explain.

  1. 1. Use of imagery
  2. 2. Typography
  3. 3. Layout
  4. 4. Use of colour

This way, you can elevate your feedback from “I don’t like it” to “the layout looks a bit busy and I’m concerned our users won’t be sure what they should do on the page”. That opens up a discussion for the designer to address those concerns. Additionally, have you seen an example of something you think your users might prefer, or is better aligned with your organisation? It can be useful to share those likes and dislikes to help the designer understand what you mean if you’re struggling to verbalise it.

By framing feedback in this way, the conversation can be really constructive and informative — which helps to keep your project on track and your people feeling good.