If you’re in a position of leadership, it’s likely that you’ve been asked to give feedback on a design project at some point in your career. But, unless you come from a design background it’s probably not something you’re very good at or completely comfortable with.
Often times this results in feedback that is more focused on your personal likes & dislikes instead of a critical evaluation of the work.
Start By Asking Questions
The first step to providing good feedback is understanding the rationale behind the decisions that were made. “I don’t like the red” isn’t good feedback. It’s a personal preference disguised as feedback.
Design isn’t art. It’s supposed to solve a problem. So start your evaluation by asking the following questions as you review the work.
Does this design support the overall objective/goals?
Not only the business goals, but also the goals of the user. Walk through the design from the perspective of the target audience and evaluate if it accomplishes the primary goal. Often when a design is off the mark, it’s because there was a misalignment of goals early in the process.
Does this embody the brand?
Is the work aligned with the brand’s personality and tone that you’re trying to convey?
Is it emotionally impactful?
Design should emotionally engage an audience. Does the work resonate emotionally? What type of person would love this? Who would hate it?
Is it innovative in it’s use of content or interactivity?
Does the experience bring something new to the table? It could be a unique piece of content that your target audience will find valuable, or an interactive tool that helps them in an engaging way. Is it ambitious enough in scope and execution to be considered remarkable?
Evaluating Visual Design Like a Pro
Now that you’ve asked the big overarching questions, it’s time to evaluate the design from a visual standpoint. This can be really intimidating for a non-designer.
Start by looking at each of the core visual elements of the design listed below. These 10 elements aren’t absolute, but they provide a good framework for feedback. As you review the design, analyze each individually.
Hierarchy: Does the layout reflect the relative importance of each item on the page? Is there a structure and pattern that’s pleasing to the eye? Is there a clear single area of focus?
Contrast: Is there enough contrast between elements? Are important elements highlighted in a way that provides emphasis?
Balance: Does the design feel well-balanced? Does the sum of each element add to its greater whole?
Areas of focus: Does the design have a sense of depth? Even “flat design” when done well establishes a foreground and background to create a clear areas of focus.
Cohesiveness: Does the design feel cohesive and consistent in its use of visual elements? Is there a coherent use of design elements (texture, type and color)?
Color: How well are the colors within the design working together? Is the color palette appropriate and well thought out?
Ease of use: How easy to use is the interface itself? Are difficult tasks broken into smaller, easier steps? Are there clear and easy to understand paths for users to follow so they can accomplish their goals (calls-to-action, etc.)?
Typography: Does the design make strong use of typography? Does the typeface reflect the voice of the brand/message? Is the typeface for body copy easy to read? Is the leading and sentence length appropriate?
Personality: Does the design reflect the personality of the brand and have a clear point of view or set of beliefs?
Adaptability: How will the design work across various device types? Will it be easy to use on mobile and tablet? Are there elements that will need to change to make it more responsive?
As you finish your review there’s one final question that should be asked:
How can this be better?
What would make this 10x better? What would make it 10% better? By framing the question as two extremes on the spectrum you’ll explore big changes as well as small tweaks that will lead to better work.
Final Advice: Don’t Be an A**hole
Lastly, please remember that anytime you’re giving feedback, you are implicitly criticizing the work of someone else.
So if you want to avoid making the conversation combative, there are a few simple things you can do to mitigate a sense of negativity in the conversation.
Start with the nice.
Try to accentuate the positive at the beginning of the review. If you always go straight into critiques/revisions, then the person you’re working with will adopt a defensive stance. The result will be a combative conversation in which you’ll be attacking and they’ll be defending. You’re on the same team and should act accordingly.
That being said, you don’t have to use the compliment sandwich. It can come off as inauthentic. You owe it to the person to be transparent in your feedback, but don’t forget to tell them what is working well.
Ask yourself, “Am I making this better, or am I just making this different?”
It can be difficult to separate personal opinion from objective feedback. One trick I use is to ask myself, “Am I making this better, or am I just making this different?” If I can’t truly convince myself that my feedback is making the work tangibly better, then I leave it out. Your goal with feedback should be to improve the final design. Not just give to feedback for feedback’s sake.
Make it actionable.
Bad feedback is non-actionable. “This isn’t what I’m looking for” gives no insight and provides no path forward. Instead, strive to make your feedback actionable. Don’t be afraid to include reference pieces. A better approach would be, “I’m looking for something more along the lines of X, Y and Z. Here are some examples to help you better understand. What I like about this particular example is that the headline grabbed my interest and spoke to a conflict in the industry.”
Good feedback can make or break a project, but like any skill — it takes practice. The next time you’re participating in a design review follow the guidelines above. They’ll help make the process easier and the end product better.
Adam Harrell is co-founder of Nebo which he helped grow from a bootstrap startup into one of the largest independent digital agencies in the Southeast. He speaks frequently on the topics of human-centered design, brand strategy, user experience, & storytelling. His work has been honored by the Addy’s, Webby’s and everything in between. He also teaches interactive design at the Creative Circus — one of the nation’s premier portfolio schools.
If you liked his article, please feel free to join him on August 16th for the launch of my new book “Creative Direction In A Digital World” at the Museum of Design Atlanta. You can RSVP at: creativedirection.eventbrite.com