5 Tips for Giving Effective Design Feedback

Feedback is an integral part of a project that’s often overlooked and underestimated. How can one even provide wrong feedback, you ask? Well, there are many cases where providing feedback results in the same outcome as not providing any at all. The outcome of a project doesn’t rely on only the creatives executing it, but it’s also clients’ responsibility to provide constructive input. No matter who’s paying who, every project is a collaborative effort.

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While feedback is usually a checkpoint both clients and creatives dread, it’s often times a missed opportunity to enhance the relationship and more importantly, the outcome of your project. Great work is always a process, requiring cooperative collaboration to implement necessary revisions and improvements along the way. After all, big-name brands like Apple and Nike didn’t blow up over night. Brand elements like their logos and taglines took time to develop and we can only imagine how much feedback they’ve encountered over the years.

So what does good feedback look like? It looks different for every team and every project. Here are some tips on how to give the best input to expedite your project’s progress and expect a unique outcome.

1. Balance the positive and negative

No one likes an avalanche of negativity, especially on work they’ve spent time to create. It’s degrading and can inhibit any confidence or motivation to do better. While it’s helpful to provide the not-so-pleasant details of your thoughts, it only lets the other person know what you don’t like or what not to do. The same goes for positive feedback. Too much and there’s the potential of being over-hyped and unmotivated to progress. Positive input only lets the other person know what you like and what’s working, and nothing else.

In order to avoid providing destructive or unhelpful feedback, it’s important to balance both the positive and the negative. This lets everyone involved know what isn’t working, what is, and what can be improved. On the flip side, this ensures there aren’t any outstanding questions you may not have answered. That way everyone has constructively shared their opinion and knows what to expect next.

Here’s a good formula to use when giving balanced feedback:

  1. Start off positive. Share what’s on track and working.
  2. Ease into what could be done better. Highlight areas of improvement.
  3. Back up your vision. Provide ways to execute how you envision things to look.

2. Consolidate feedback

Another untold tip for providing effective feedback is consolidating it. The biggest mistake a team can do is not appoint a stakeholder in charge of providing input. When failed to do so, you run the risk of overwhelming and confusing the creatives handling your project. You also miss out on the opportunity for you and your team members to tie up any loose ends or decisions.

Especially where creative projects are concerned, establishing a clear, single direction is crucial to timely progress. Design is entirely subjective and you may like blue, but your colleagues may like red. Because everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it’s important to gather them from each stakeholder. This ensures that everyone is heard and that the creatives don’t have a conflict when implementing what sometimes may be contradicting feedback.

3. Provide similar examples and inspiration

While this may seem like a no-brainer, most underestimate the importance of backing up your feedback with examples. The world of creativity is full of possibilities, so expecting a creative to understand your vision without some sort of reference isn’t the most clever move. Luckily, inspiration is all around us. This can even mean snapping a photo of something you found interesting on your commute or lunch break. The more examples and sources of inspiration you can provide, the better the creative can connect with your vision.

However, this isn’t to say that all examples and inspiration are one and the same or all worth sending over. Pulling resources “just because” isn’t always helpful. That’s why it’s important to only send examples that are relevant and most similar to what the goal is. If it makes more sense to draft up a mood board to portray your vision, then spending the extra prep time may be what’s best. This is entirely dependent on the project at hand but as a rule of thumb, providing something is always better than providing nothing.

If you’re in need of some ideas of inspiration or examples, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow:

  1. For design projects, provide a moodboard of visuals like similar projects, fonts, color swatches, illustrations, or photography
  2. For writing projects, provide examples of copy via links to websites, books, magazines or relevant quotes
  3. For marketing projects, provide examples of digital and print ads, and any relevant pieces of the above design and writing projects

4. Focus on one thing at a time

We’ve all felt the immense pressure of a tight deadline or a complex project. This usually triggers the automatic response of trying to multitask and cover all the bases at once. Focusing on multiple things at once is not always the answer to being on time and on track. The same goes for giving feedback. While an accurate timeline is key to making sure you’re always handling one thing at a time, sometimes things get a bit messy. When this happens, it’s still important to remember to address one project or piece of work at a time.

This means elaborating on the feedback of one piece before moving on to the next. Doing so will make sure the other person isn’t overwhelmed with confusion, and that your feedback doesn’t get implemented incorrectly. Rushing over multiple revisions, big or small, can also hinder your timeline by rushing the time to reflect and implement the changes you’re looking for. The moral of the story is that slow and steady wins the race.

5. Make it timely

There’s nothing worse than a deadline approaching and having nothing to show for it. This is especially true for the creatives waiting on your opinion in order to proceed wrapping up a project. Prolonging feedback not only hurts the progress of your project, but it sometimes leaves others no choice but to make decisions without your input. The last thing you want is for your creative team to alternatively stop what they’re doing to wait for you, which only prolongs the meeting of your deadline.

While it’s not-so-cool to give feedback late, the same applies to giving it too early. If you aren’t aware of your project’s progress, you might mistake something for being finished, giving feedback too early before the creative has even had a chance to complete their work. This also refers back to the point of why staying in the loop of your project is key to just about every part of it. The timeliness of your feedback is a matter of not only being respectful of their time, but yours too.

Above all else, the most important thing to remember is that feedback is a crucial part of design. The outcome of any project is just as much your responsibility as it is the creatives executing it. When following these tips, you’re a more collaborative player, and the more collaborative a creative relationship, the better creatives can be at what they do best.

As more of the modern workplace transitions into working online, adapting to the virtual ways of collaborating is essential. Every project is no different than any other investment. Being proactive about each step of the way only ensures that you get what you envisioned in the first place. So the next time you’re wondering how you can play a part in quickening up your project and take action for better results, remember that effective feedback is an answer.

You wouldn’t leave a hair salon or a barbershop with a bad haircut, so practice the same principles of feedback in the creative arena. Your vision is best heard when you balance the positive and negative, share it in a timely manner, consolidate it, focus on one thing at a time, and provide examples and inspiration. When you give feedback like a pro, you can be sure to save tons of time and money on your next creative project…and maybe a future haircut.

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