How do you give helpful design feedback?

As designers, we tend to get a lot of feedback about our design. How well that feedback is depends on who we’re getting it from. Some people are great at giving feedback, and others are terrible.

It’s easy to get angry over bad feedback until the roles are reversed and we’re the ones giving it. It’s difficult to encourage someone to find their own way while not entirely turning their work into something from a mini version if yourself.

So what does good design advice look like?

Ask a lot of questions

The designer asking you for a critique should present their work to you. What were their thoughts as they were designing? What was the reasoning behind some of their decisions? What is the ultimate call to action? This helps you get in their frame of mind and get a better understanding of what their intentions were.

Your own experience starts to kick in if you can relate to the path the designer was trying to go down. Make sure to use this to your advantage! Designers who are just starting out can easily get caught up in the moment and not always think ahead to future scenarios. It’s fun to focus on the moment and not realize how a certain design decision may impact something farther down the project path.

Make sure the advice you give is specific

You have to think about how you want someone to act on your advice, if they decide to take it. As an example, I usually advise a lot on typography. It’s a detail that easily makes or breaks almost every project. When you’re throwing colors, shapes, and layouts around, it’s easy to mindlessly pick a font and keep moving. Sometimes that doesn’t work. 

If this were the case, I wouldn’t start my advice with a request or demand to use a specific typeface, line width or font size. Rather, I’d point the designer in a direction of a resource or two on good typography. Let them make the connections and do some research! They can interpret what good typography is to them and execute it accordingly. It’s also more exciting because they’re still in control instead of taking orders.

I learned a lot about typography this way and enjoyed every minute of it.

Be careful balancing the positive and negative

You don’t want to be mean. But you don’t want to be fluffy. If a design is terrible, it’s not helpful to shred it apart. There should be something learned from anything that someone creates. We all create things that look bad from time to time. Make sure that when you do start to give feedback that you balance the good with the bad. Present your advice as an opportunity to learn and grow. People appreciate that.

Let them figure their way through problems. Honestly, that’s likely the method we all used at some point when we were beginners.

Giving good feedback is one of the most fulfilling things you can do that doesn’t directly involve Photoshop. If you do it well enough, you’ll find your peers looking up to you. Maybe it opens up the door for a mentorship or leadership role. Being a source for feedback may even make a positive impact on your work!

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