Anton Sten

I help companies define, design and launch world-class digital products.

Utilizing feedback

I am still really enjoying the coaching sessions I run with a couple of different mid to senior designers on a recurring basis. It’s fascinates me to see their growth, but I also get to peek in on the work they do and the challenges they face (spoiler: we all pretty much face the same challenges over and over). I keep thinking that I should update the pricing on my coaching page too to better reflect reality… it’s actually more flexible than advertised and I will always try and find a price that works for you. Most of the designers I coach today are around $200-$250/hour if they commit to a recurring schedule. If you’re a student, BIPOC, or a woman, I’ll always do my best to be extra flexible with the rate. Sorry white dudes, but we’ve had our fair share of fortune already.

Anyway, a few weeks back one of the senior designers I’m coaching asked me a question that I struggled to answer. He asked me how I think one should give feedback and, more specifically, how I do it. Now this is a senior designer with many years of experience, so he already knows the basic rules of feedback - make it constructive, right amount of praise, in a timely manner, etc. This struck me as interesting as most of my work revolves around giving appropriate feedback.

I had to ask him if it was OK for me to think about the question for a couple of days before I got back to him.

What GOOD feedback looks like

Let’s start with the basics that I try to keep in mind for any feedback review or design critique:

A good design review:
- Very briefly allows the designer to introduce their work. One or two minutes tops, honestly.
- Establishes boundaries for the desired type of feedback. Where are they in the process? What kind of feedback is most helpful — high-level or more granular? Is this production-ready, or early conceptual thinking?
- Lets the reviewers do most of the talking. The presenter does not get a rebuttal unless it’s in the form of a question.
- Allows for more in-depth follow ups where there are more probing questions or issues of work overlap.The Ultimate Guide to Leading a Remote Design Team

There’s two things here that I think are especially important.

First, listen. Too many feedback sessions just dive right in and the people giving feedback have too little context in order to give valuable (actionable and helpful) feedback. Instead, they’ll just dive in just being thrilled someone explicitly asked for their opinion.

Secondly, understand where they are in their process and what kind of feedback they are looking for. Are the designs early explorations or are they ready for a client review? What type of feedback are they looking for? High-level or granular? Focused on a specific feature or the entire project? Recently a friend of mine, who is the designer of Sweden’s leading business paper, asked for feedback on their redesigned LinkedIn header. Comments kept coming in, critiquing the use of color on the body page, the font size of the articles and so on. No one had bothered to read what he was actually asking for feedback on. They were just eager to tell him what THEY thought.

Personally, one thing I try to do encourage creative exercises during feedback. You see, most people tend to ask for my input only when they are stuck and not confident in what the next step is. So feedback in this format works to unblock that creative process. If they aren’t stuck, but they are finished, there’s only so most your feedback can do right?

My go to exercise works similar to the “As If” exercise I told you about a couple of weeks ago. Ultimately, I want to help the person asking take a step back and look at the work from a slightly different angle - gaining a new perspective. Please note that this doesn’t have to be a complete 180’ turn, but just a slightly different view. So instead of asking “As if,” it’s more asking “What if”. What if that was blue instead? What if the user is drunk when using the tool? What if this is in dark mode? What if they don’t use the navigation but just use search? What if we did this one thing a little bit different? What then?

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