Three Secrets of Design Feedback
Use these tips to find openness, objectivity, and trust in talent.
Anyone who has ever done design work for pay will tell you that there are two universal truths, always in play:
1) Everyone agrees that design by committee is bad.
2) Everyone wants to be on the committee.
Managing this head/heart conflict is often the principle complexity of designer/client relations…. and over the years I’ve gathered a few thoughts that help:
It’s never the case that one of you is right and the other is wrong .
If you and the client disagree on what’s the best strategy, either you haven’t explained your approach well enough, or you haven’t been listening to the client’s need closely enough. ‘Nuff said.
Good design process is a series of scaffolded decisions, each creating a platform of objectivity on which future decisions can be built.
Lots of folks argue that “quality” in arts, design, and communications are fundamentally subjective. Perhaps that’s true in some cases, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t create your own sources of relative objectivity within each project. Make sure to create milestones or key thresholds in your process that document “we agree up to this point.”
When you and your client acknowledge agreement up to the brief, up to the concept, up to the initial draft… it means that everything subsequent to that step only needs to be measured against that “most recent agreement”-and nothing prior to that step needs to be reworked. So, if the client doesn’t “like” the layout, the discussion can be focused on how it does or does not satisfy the requirements laid out in the previous step; the discussion shifts and it’s no longer a question of whether it’s “good” or not, or whether someone “likes it” or not, but rather whether it aligns with what was previously agreed upon. This is the only way I’ve found to shift design discussions from subjective to objective.
Guide team members to give descriptive, not prescriptive, feedback.
Descriptive feedback might include a comment like “I think the color pallete doesn’t feel high-tech enough” whereas prescriptive feedback might be “make it blue and silver.” See the difference?
With descriptive feedback, you’re giving the designer feedback based on your observations-and hopefully relevant to previously agreed direction. (See objectivity, above!). But with prescriptive feedback, you’re telling the designer to push the buttons you say to push.
Descriptive feedback should based on the objective agreements you’ve already made in the design process:
Good, Descriptive: “In the brief, we all signed off on the idea that we wanted a clean, minimalist design… but this feels a little cluttered to me.”
Bad, Prescriptive: “Delete this …and this …and this. Make the photo smaller. Make the logo bigger.”
While prescriptive feedback shuts down options and “decides,” descriptive feedback leaves the door open to alternative solutions-and it allows artists, designers, and authors bring their considerable talents to the task. After all, you don’t hire a designer just to push buttons.
Originally published at https://aptonym.com on December 9, 2021.