Feedback that moves things forward

David de Léon

When giving feedback I favour a process that is less about pointing out issues and proffering solutions, and is more about creating forward movement. Sure there may be things that can be fixed on the spot. My preferred goal, however, is that the designer goes away with new insights, new leads, and with renewed energy and curiosity.

Unless the designer does so you need to establish what the parameters for the design are. Where in the design process are we, and what does the designer need most help with? Does the designer need to open up the design space, or narrow it down? Does the designer need help identifying issues or finding gaps? What are the goals of the piece of design you are about to look at? You can, and should, challenge the parameters and assumptions given to you, but don’t get stuck here. To be able to provide helpful feedback, at some point you need to accept the premises given. Compare a film reviewer who harps on about how he or she doesn’t like a particular genre instead of providing insights about the film in question. Make sure that most time is spent on feedback that moves things forward.

Set the stage

When giving design feedback, look at the actual design and have some paper and pens or a whiteboard ready to hand. I know that this seems like trivial advice, and you are likely to skim the text at this point, but it is remarkably often that someone tries to talk you through a design problem without giving you anything to look at. I am not sure why this is. Perhaps it feels like this is going to be quicker, or safer, or perhaps it is simply a failure to consider the needs of the person who is to give feedback. So be sure to ask to look at the design work and that there are paper and pens ready to hand.

There are a couple of attitudes that I find to be especially conducive to a good feedback session:

  • Treat the person you are giving feedback as an equal. Avoid all status play. Be humble and don’t assume that you are right.
  • Focus on the qualities of the design and not those of the designer. Assume that you both want the same thing: to make the design object the best that it can be. I cannot overstate the effectiveness of this tip!

Start off with questions

Although design knowledge and domain knowledge are part of being able to provide useful design feedback, the process of asking your design colleague to explain their reasoning, and the choices that they have made, go a long way towards helping to move the design forward. If nothing else, I find it useful to return to a couple of fundamental questions:

  • What are the users’ goals here? What are the three most important goals?
  • What is the design trying to achieve? What are the desired user behaviours?

What to look for

Some other things that I have found useful when critiquing a design:

  • Being on the lookout for ways of removing and simplifying things. Look for ways to reducing the amount things someone has to think about, the amount of choices they have to make, and the number of steps they have to take.
  • Looking for ways to help guide the user along. Will the user know what to do, where they are, and what is happening?
  • Look for things that are being solved with interaction that could be solved through graphics and animations, and vice versa.
  • Looking for things that might be missing.
  • Making note of things that the design is doing particularly well, and seeing if these things could be brought forward and applied elsewhere in the design.
  • If there is only one design solution being reviewed, and you have nothing to compare it to, it can be useful to ask about alternative solutions that the designer discarded or discounted along the way.

This is the second blog post in a series of articles about giving and reciving feedback. Part 1 is centred around ”Receiving feedback”. Part 3 is about Making use of feedback and will be up on our blog within two week. Be sure to check in if you want to stay updated.

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