Design critique sessions are nothing new.
They are an integral part of the design process, and over the last years, modern companies have found smart and efficient ways to incorporate these sessions into everything they design and build.
Design critique sessions help the team be on the same page about what is being designed, and also help the designer understand the needs of every team and department in their company — to make sure that their design solution accommodates for most of them.
You show the work. People comment. You learn about what their needs are.
But some designers get really defensive when hearing feedback about their work. They take critique as an insult.
And in the impulse of pushing back on every comment that’s coming from other team members, this type of designer tends to lose themselves in illogic arguments and fight for things that are irrelevant considering the broader scheme of things.
Knowing how to receive and act on feedback is part of a designer’s job, and is also what differentiates good and bad designers.
Identifying good vs. bad feedback
The first step when receiving feedback is to filter out bad, poorly formulated, or destructive feedback. A few characteristics of bad feedback:
- Bad feedback focuses on the solution, and not the problem. Comments like “you should use a hamburger menu instead” might be jumping too quickly into a solution. Ask people for the problem on what they are seeing, not the solution they are imagining.
- Bad feedback includes personal likes and dislikes. Subjectivity should stay out of the equation. Whenever you start hearing things like “I like” and “I don’t like”, bring the discussion back to the problem you are trying to solve.
- Bad feedback is directed to the designer, not to the design. If you start hearing things like “your layout” or “your choice of colors” instead of “the layout” and “the choice of colors”, something is weird. The best way to get out of those situations and avoid harmful directed feedback is to include other people in the conversation and see if they all agree with what’s being said.
A good way to prevent bad feedback from coming up in the first place is to start every meeting with a recap of the goals. What are we trying to achieve here? Where are we in the process? What feedback are we expecting to discuss today?
Discussing the feedback you received
When you get good, relevant feedback, the next step is to make sure you discuss it with your peers.
Younger designers tend to take feedback straight as action items, without having a proper discussion about it.
That’s where teams most commonly spin their wheels: addressing feedback that hasn’t been properly discussed, thought through, and agreed on.
- Listen more than you speak. That’s rule number 1 of receiving feedback. Make sure you are wholeheartedly listening and paying attention to what your peers or clients are saying.
- Ask for clarification. When you receive feedback that misses a proper rationale, ask clarifying questions that will remove ambiguity and doubt. “What specifically do you not like about this menu, and is there another type that you like better? What makes you like that one better?”
- Write down the feedback. This not only shows your appreciation for the feedback you are getting but also helps you remember the details the next day. Make sure you collect all the details you need to be able to act.
- Create scenarios. When the discussion gets too personal, coming up with real use cases can bring the session back on track. “Let’s think about our persona, Joe, and imagine they are coming here trying to find our Products. Where do you think they would click?”
- Push for consensus. It’s common that two people will hijack design critique sessions to discuss a specific point, but it is important for the designer to make sure other participants also agree with what’s being discussed. What you don’t want is to make a change based on what one of your peers/clients thinks, and then have the new version be disliked by someone else who was quiet the first time.
Act on what you heard
The work is not over when the critique session ends. The next step is (obviously) to address the feedback you heard — but don’t do it right away. Give your brain (and your team’s brain) some time to reflect on what was discussed, preferably only starting to address it on the next day.
Also: don’t get too obsessed with the details, or too attached to a particular solution. Designs evolve, will only be bulletproof when vetted by your peers/clients, and tested with real users.
Taking feedback as constructive criticism will help you eventually see the faults in your work, and make you both a stronger designer and collaborator. Knowing to let go is a key principle for every designer.
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