7 ways to get better feedback on your designs

At some point as a designer, you will have received feedback on your work, whether you asked for it or not. Feedback can come in all shapes and sizes but is only useful when it is relevant to the design and the problem that it is attempting to solve, and is structured in such a way to help you move the design forward.

One of the main things to remember about asking for feedback on a design is that you are not looking for validation, even if it might be nice to have. What you are looking for is a way to move forward and improve the design you are currently presenting. What you are showing to your stakeholders when requesting feedback is very rarely the finished article - it is usually very far from it - and you need to gain some insight as to whether the work you are doing is headed in the right direction.

Keeping in mind that you are looking for ways in which your current design can be improved, here are 7 things you should do when soliciting feedback from your stakeholders.

1. Avoid big reveals

As much as some people might like surprises, it is rarely welcome when it comes to revealing a new solution to a particular problem. To get to the point at which you can do a big reveal, you will likely have spent weeks or even months on designing a solution to a problem, and whether it goes on to be built is completely reliant on the delivery of a single presentation.

Reducing risk is one of the key concerns in business, and building up to a big reveal is just piling risk on top of more risk. You will need to bring people along on the journey of the design process and the iterations that you go through. With this approach, you breed familiarity between your stakeholders and the problem you are working to solve.

By communicating consistently at regular intervals, you are not only able to help grow the stakeholder’s involvement with the development of a solution, but you can use them to guide you with their feedback which will be more informed due to their participation.

2. Explain the thinking behind your design

In order to solicit the right feedback, you need to be clear on what the intention of your design is. You will need your stakeholders to understand the problem space within which you are working, and even how that fits into the larger scale of everything that they have a knowledge of; you need to communicate how this particular problem affects other areas and how solving it will be beneficial, not just for your project, but for other areas of the business.

If you can describe the problem that you are trying to fix with your design, you should be able to make a sound logical argument by walking through your process and how the decisions you have made along the way intended to address those problems.

You will also need to be armed with the evidence upon which you have based those decisions, whether this is from user research, analytical data from current usage of whatever it is you are working on, or insights you may have gained elsewhere. You will need to add proof as to why your decisions, and the resulting design, should be the solution to the problem.

3. Choose the right tools for providing feedback

The methods and tools through which you obtain your feedback must be aligned to the way you are working, and reflect the stage of the design process you find yourselves at.

If you are in the early stages of discovery, you will be having many conversations way before you deliver a prototype, open Sketch (or your design software of choice), or place a pen or pencil to a sheet of paper. At this stage, your feedback is part of these conversations and will need to be documented, whether that be through minutes of meetings, fleshing out a requirements document, or pulling relevant information out of email.

Once you begin the design process in earnest, you will be able to utilise different tools for the stage you are at. If you’re doing early sketches and flowing out the initial journeys, it’s great to put these up on a wall and annotate with post-it notes. Set up sessions where you can walk your team through your thinking in front of this wall of diagrams and place your feedback directly on them. In the case that you’re working remotely, tools like Miro and even InVision can be used to upload your early work for collaborative feedback sessions.

If you work in a distributed team across multiple timezones, you’ll most likely need to lean on a form of asynchronous feedback, whether that comes from many individuals into one place which then needs to be collated (perhaps via email or individual sessions that walk through the design), or on an online platform that allows constant access and stores all feedback as it is given.

You will be able to experiment in this area, and you may find that your preferred methods continually evolve as your team’s and your own needs change.

4. Be clear on how you should receive feedback

This aligns very closely with the tools you will use to collect your feedback but is worth stating that you should be very specific about the channel through which you want your feedback to be provided.

Your aim with being clear on the channel through which you gather your feedback is to make the process more efficient. If you have one person who prefers email, someone who likes to give their feedback verbally, or an individual who writes detail notes, it can be extremely time-consuming to pull all of these different kinds of input into a single repository of feedback.

If you’re planning on gathering asynchronous feedback, you would be wise to provide a deadline for feedback and be sure to also reinforce the framework through which the feedback is to be supplied. Again, this is closely aligned to your choice of tool, so be prepared for some trial and error to find the best way that works with your team.

5. State what you require feedback on

Depending on the situation in which you are requesting feedback, you will need to be specific in what you are looking for feedback on. If you are working on a particular part of a particular feature in a much larger product, you must specify precisely what it is you are looking for feedback on.

You can provide a better understanding of what you need from this feedback by telling your stakeholders exactly what will and will not be acted upon. If any feedback is provided outside of the scope that has been requested, you can say that it will not be actioned at this time, but will instead be added to a ‘feedback backlog’ which can be revisited at a later date.

Often you will find your stakeholders will prefer a more defined area for them to concentrate on, as everyone’s time is valuable, and setting these kinds of constraints upfront is beneficial for both them and you. This more pointed approach provides benefits to the team as you can act faster incorporating that feedback into your designs and cover more in each iteration of your product.

6. Don’t ask for solutions, ask for problems

Closely aligned to be precise about what you need feedback on, you need to be clear on what helpful feedback looks like. Opinions on what a stakeholder likes or does not like have no real bearing on what you should or shouldn’t be doing with your designs.

You should not be asking for feedback on the colour of a button or the placement of a certain component on the screen. If you do receive feedback like this, it is your job to try to get to the bottom of what this feedback is actually about. Using The 5 Whys helps to figure this out, but in an ideal scenario, you shouldn’t have to dig into the meaning of the feedback given.

What you are looking for is the problems that they see with the design. Whether the lack of prominence on a button might have a negative effect on people signing up to their platform or service, or whatever the measurable impact may be for your product. You want their concerns about why they think a certain thing needs changing, and what that means for the business. When you know this, you can address these concerns directly and try to understand where they fit in as part of the project and if it changes your scope in any way.

Ultimately your stakeholders want a solution that solves a problem, both for them and the users, and being candid about what helps you to achieve this is beneficial for both the user and stakeholders, as well as you, the designer.

7. Don’t take feedback personally

This is one thing that took me several years to understand, and now it is something that I announce to everyone at the start of any feedback session.

Every piece of feedback given will not be taken personally, we are all here to uncover any problems with this design so that we can make it better.

As a designer, you have to come to the realisation that the work you create does not belong to you. Neither does it belong to the stakeholders within your organisation. The people who will come closest to the product you are creating will be its users. They are the ones who will be most affected by the use of your creation, and so it is them for whom we are designing.

Negative yet constructive feedback on something you have designed is exactly what you should be striving for. What you put in front of people for them to openly criticise can be a daunting thing, but it is a step that is needed to be able to push your solutions to be better.

You will also need to be aware of the negative effects of positive feedback. This sounds crazy at first, but one positive feedback session in the early stages of design can stagnate your progress and reduce the need you feel for improving your solution. If you’re working on a specific problem that has never really been solved in an elegant fashion before, then simply making the process work puts you head and shoulders above the competition. This can lead to a loss of impetus - even complacency - in making your product the best it can be. If everyone is already so happy with it, why should we do more?

As a designer, our success lies in the creation of something that the people who use it find valuable. It helps them to achieve their goals and does so in a way that provides a good experience to them.

Go forth and gather feedback

Has this given you any ideas on how to improve the way you gather feedback on your designs? Is there anything I may have missed out or has worked well for you in the past? I’d love to know your stories so feel free to get in touch on Twitter (@westleyknight) or email me on hello@westleyknight.co.uk.