Whether it’s hearing comments from a client or contributing to a design critique with colleagues, receiving and offering feedback is a crucial part of any good designer’s daily work.
The most effective people in our industry know that cultivating feedback skills is key to improving their own design work and enhancing their team’s creative output.
However, even when we recognize the value of critique, we can often still be reluctant to give and receive feedback. Particularly as students, we might worry that we will express ourselves in the wrong way when offering feedback on others’ work. Or equally, putting our work on display might make us feel judged, or we might be afraid of having to let go of our favorite ideas. We deal with some of these issues in our piece on how to give and receive design critique well.
One thing that it’s important to remember is that giving and receiving feedback is a collaborative activity, not a one-way street. Critique works best when everyone involved is committed to realizing a project and allowing it to meet its goals. And practically speaking, one of its big advantages is that designers can simply save a lot of time, since inviting the perspectives and ideas of others often empowers us to move away from unsuccessful ideas more quickly.
Over time, engaging in critique also makes us better listeners and more articulate colleagues. By cultivating feedback skills, as designers we also gain a better understanding of when and how to compromise for the sake of visual or technical requirements. What’s more, we become better equipped to communicate with clients or others who may not have a design background or know “design-speak”.
That said, giving valuable feedback can sometimes feel like an elusive process. To supplement our checklist on how to give critique, we’ve put together a checklist below on what to look out for when you’ve been asked to give feedback on someone’s work.
Create the right conditions for critique.
1. Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect.
While we may have the best intentions internally, it's important that we manifest mutual respect outwardly through our body language and choice of words. In another article from last year, we explain why it’s important to talk about the work and not the person—in particular, limit how often you say “you” to help the other person feel relaxed and open up.
2. Clarify the goals for the work.
Before launching into critique, asking the other person to explain their goals for the project. This can reveal what kind of feedback will be most helpful for them, and can help to avoid that awkward situation of the critique veering away from the person’s goals and losing relevance.
3. Acknowledge your subjectivity.
Approaching feedback with curiosity impacts creative output and potential in measurable ways. As this Harvard Business Review article puts it, work—especially creative work—greatly benefits from early feedback that acknowledges “that your opinion is exactly that: an opinion.” This seemingly simple act gives space and flexibility by suggesting that “opinions provide potential trajectories a creative worker might try—not the ‘right’ road to take.”
4. Reframe your suggestions as questions.
Prescribing solutions right away can feel overly authoritative or run the risk of imposing your own aesthetic biases. Instead, try asking questions about the work to gain more insight about the thinking process behind it. Your questions can help empower the other person to consider alternatives and explore different solutions in their next iteration.