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Last updated on 1/13/20

Give and receive feedback

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Designing the perfect solution is not the ultimate goal of a designer. It is more important to be humble and open to giving and receiving feedback or constructive criticism in order to work towards continual improvement.

As a designer you will be presenting concepts, ideas, and iterations of your work as you go. Feedback and critique happen each step of the way, so it’s important to present with confidence and learn to handle criticism. Never take it personally, be able to discuss your thought process, and justify your decisions (the research and testing you do will help inform these decisions too). 

Receiving feedback

Liking or disliking something isn't useful or effective when it comes to creating successful UX. You want to be able to get to the core of what people respond to and why. If someone doesn't like something, is it because they're distracted by a color choice or design element, or is there something deeper that isn't working in the current version? The feedback you receive is going to help inform your next steps. It can take place in pre-arranged meetings and presentations or informally when you approach another team member.

Ask the right questions for quality feedback

Asking questions is one of the best tools a designer has. The skills you learned as a design and user researcher (see course) will also benefit you as you manage projects and work with clients and teams. In order to get to the core concerns, consider:

  • Asking "the five whys" - literally, keep asking "why" with each response in order to delve deeper; ask "why" at least five times.

  • Asking for clarification - which element, part, aspect, feature, etc. is the cause for concern?

  • Crafting scenarios - tell a story to give a context to what you are presenting. It's always good to have a refresher, and it's helpful for bringing new team members up to speed.

Types of feedback

Feedback can come in the form of reactions, direction, and critique according to Adam Connor, co-author of Discussing Design: Paying Attention to Details of the Design Critique. The three kinds of feedback can be broken down as follows:

  1. Reactions: emotional or visceral reactions that often come instinctively

  2. Direction:  feedback in the form of a suggestion or instruction

  3. Critique: "a form of analysis that uses critical thinking to determine whether a creation is expected to achieve its desired outcomes"

The first two can cause issues within teams because it can be perceived as too personal.  These types are therefore not the most constructive or productive at moving designs forward. As much as possible, focus on critique.

Watch the video below for more detail on Adam Connor's ideas about feedback:

Adam Connor, Ask a UXpert. [2:13 min]

Accept feedback

There are numerous factors that play into any project, most of which are out of your control. Focus on covering your bases as you work and staying professional. You want to stay objective throughout the process, which means not being influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, prejudice, or bias.

You may not always hear the feedback you had been hoping for, but recognize that feedback is what helps inform your next steps and priorities. Ultimately, the feedback you receive needs to be understood within the context of the project goals.

Watch the video below for additional helpful advice on receiving feedback:

How to Receive feedback: Kelly Jepsen reminds us that there's no right or wrong answer [6:00 min]

Giving feedback

Be specific. When giving feedback, try to be as specific as possible. Make sure you're talking about the project and not trying to assign blame. This is especially important when communicating in writing; there's the missing human component to ensure things are not taken the wrong way.

Be concise. No one wants to be overwhelmed with a list of a million things added to their workload. Consider if there's a way to synthesize a few key observations or insights you picked up on that you can report back to them. This helps with critical thinking for both sides and makes it more likely that any suggestions made actually get implemented in future iterations. 

Be rational, not emotional. You don't need to have a solution or alternative in mind in order to make a contribution to the conversation; gut reactions and first impressions are important and valuable when giving feedback. On the flip side, try to keep emotions out of it. A lot of brilliant ideas may get cut in the design process, including yours. These may not be bad ideas, just ones that aren't right for the particular context. You can always file these ideas away in the back of your head and challenge yourself to figure out different ways to integrate them into future projects.

Be positive. Remember, while feedback helps to figure out what needs to be fixed and improved, there's still room to give positive feedback and talk about what you thought worked really well. Making comments like these may even inspire others on the team to incorporate the concept into another aspect of the project in a creative way that they may not have otherwise considered.

For more on how to give good feedback, check out the advice in the video below:

InVision Design Snack: Giving Good Feedback [3:04 min] 

Communication within teams

The other thing to realize is that in addition to representing different disciplines, teams are often made up of different personality types and often different cultures. When working in an international environment, there's even more room for cultural misunderstandings. (Erin Meyer has written an entire book on the subject, called The Culture Map.) Learning to communicate with different team members is always going to be a work in progress, whether or not feedback is involved. Be aware of and try to address issues before they boil over. 

Check out these resources to help your team communicate better:

We'll consider more ideas around feedback when we look at documentation in the next chapter!

Let's recap!

  • Being a designer does not involve living in a bubble, you need to get feedback from users and fellow team members.

  • It's important not to take [negative] criticism personally.

  • Feedback is important because it helps inform the next steps in the design process.

  • The '5 Whys' system of questioning involves asking "Why?" five times after each answer to get to a richer response.

  • Usability testing is great for observing and understanding how people actually use your product (that may contrast with your expectations).

  • Don't be afraid to give context to get everyone on the same page before sharing the latest iteration of a design.

  • Be clear, concise, and emotionless when giving feedback.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement