5 top tips for giving design feedback

04. Phrase your feedback strategically

Just as with framing, the same critique can be interpreted any number of ways depending on its phrasing. Minor details like word choice can make a world of difference to the person on the receiving end, not the least of which is whether or not they choose to accept it.

There are two important concerns to keep in mind when phrasing your feedback:

  • the feelings of the recipient
  • the accuracy of the comment

The first is the same lessons of playing well with others that we learned in kindergarten. Proper phrasing incorporates respectfulness and tact. Using softer phrasing like "I didn't understand this part" will soften the blow far more than, "I hated this" or "This part makes no sense."

This may be common sense to some people, but others seem to lack this empathetic filter, and so extra care should be placed on wording.

Image courtesy of OpenSource.com: https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway

Image courtesy of OpenSource.com: https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway

The second concern about accuracy deals mainly with exaggeration. "No one is going to understand that" is a bit inaccurate, not to mention extreme. "I didn't understand that," or "I'm worried a lot of people won't understand that" are more accurate, and more helpful.

Grounding your comments in reality will make them much more actionable.

05. Back it up with facts

Opinions can be discussed and argued all night long, but facts are either right or wrong. Whenever possible, back up your criticisms with facts. This will cut down on time wasted in fruitless debates, but it will also create a better end product because it's built on something substantial.

Draw on any user studies or relevant research to explain why your criticism is valid. In fact, before the feedback session even begins, present the right context by explaining the rationale behind the design in terms of usability data. If you haven't yet conducted any research for the project, reference others' research – there's certainly enough of it out there.

Image courtesy of John Lord: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowbookltd

Image courtesy of John Lord: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowbookltd

Even the more abstract topics such as visuals have scientific backing. The Gestalt principles lend validity to claims about layout and spacing.

Numerous studies on the psychological effects of colours can help settle disputes on which colours to choose. And the science of aesthetics we described in the free e-book Web Design for the Human Eye can determine in concrete terms the proper look of a design.

Ultimately, the opinions of your peers don't matter nearly as much as the behavior of the users. Try as best you can to model your feedback on what's best for them.

Conclusion

Yes, you should hurt other people's feelings as little as possible. But feelings aside, collaboration is better for business.

A smoother feedback routine helps ensure the right criticisms get implemented, along with less feelings getting hurt. Like all other aspects of design, how to critique is its own skillset with its own guidelines. Taking the time to work on those will have positive effects on the project just like improving any other design element.

If you'd like to explore more skills and techniques required for great web design, check out the free 109-page e-book Web Design Best Practices. The book explores techniques spanning UX design, visual design, and interaction design. Examples are analyzed from 33 companies including Apple, Spotify, Skullcandy, and others.

Words: Jerry Cao

Jerry Cao is a content strategist at UXPin — the wireframing and prototyping app. To learn more, download the free e-book Design Collaboration in the Enterprise.

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