Stuck in a bad design feedback loop? Here’s what to do about it

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In this sponsored blog post by our friends at BugHerd—a visual feedback tool for designers—you’ll gain insight on how to spot poor design feedback and evolve your processes to avoid it in the future.

Bad feedback sucks, but truly there is no more useless feedback than no feedback at all.

Bad feedback on design work does indeed suck. It’s not the dread of being critiqued on your work (that’s merely par for the course), it’s the cringe-worthy, unactionable type of feedback that’s problematic. Designers rarely hit the mark on the first try, and great design feedback is an unparalleled opportunity to collaborate and deliver the strongest possible solution for a client.
Otherwise, why would rounds of changes and feedback be included in quotes and project plans?

Constructive criticism is certainly expected and appreciated. The “bad feedback” this article focuses on is the sort that is extremely difficult to decipher or nearly impossible to act upon— and it almost always stems from an inadequate feedback process.

Poor feedback could be a symptom of bad communication from the start. Or, it can be due to a lack of understanding of the design process or even a lack of trust in the designer. You certainly know the kind of feedback we are talking about…

Bad design feedback looks like…

The long-winded email:

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The long-winded email will never, ever in a million years be solved in one reply, or even two.

These emails usually consist of a rambling thought process or a list to work through. If you’re lucky, you may receive a screenshot with circles drawn upon it highlighting the change requests, but these emails rarely provide proper visual context.

Many designers will copy this to a notepad or a project management tool to work through bit by bit and email by email.

The impossible to read spreadsheet:

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Thorough, yet confusing. These spreadsheets tend to be packed with details and comments that are difficult to follow. You might revert to working through the list with the client on the phone or in another chain of email responses.

At least if sent through a Google Doc, there’s the chance of working collaboratively in the comments. However, we wish you the best of luck if said feedback is sent through in Excel.

Everything is urgent:

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We get it. The approval and release of a design into production or print is a large cog in the wheel to move things forward. However, there needs to be a hierarchy of what to fix. Especially on a technical level if we’re talking web-design.

You can’t design faster, but you can prioritize, and the whole balance of the design may hinge on a particular element. You need to know which are the most urgent changes and fixes to understand where to begin.

The good news is that there’s a way to guide your clients or other stakeholders into providing feedback that makes sense. We all want feedback that is easier to work through based on priority, easier to understand, and easier to query without going back and forth ad infinitum using spreadsheets and endless emails. Here’s how you can start evolving your processes to get the actionable feedback you need:

The anatomy of different feedback types

A worthwhile exercise is to break down different possible types of feedback you may receive, to make them easier to prioritize and work through…

1. “THIS REQUIRES A CHANGE”

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Something is wrong with the design that can be specifically pointed out in terms of color, image use, logo etc. However, feedback can be difficult to implement when we know as a designer that it’s the right choice (aka functional), but it doesn’t fit within the design.

Non-creatives may focus on specific details, and not overall design. For example, the client may say, “The logo should be bigger because people can’t see it from far away.” To which we respond, “The logo can’t be any bigger because it causes an imbalance”. Or the client may state, “We should avoid red because it makes people feel uncomfortable and angry”. Without realizing that red, when used in context with these other colors, will create harmony.

2. “THIS IS BROKEN”

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This type is possibly the easiest and clearest feedback to understand and is especially common in website feedback. A link may be wrong, an image isn’t rendering properly or a logo isn’t correct.

However, if these issues are laid out in the aforementioned “long-winded email” and “impossible to read spreadsheet”, they become a nightmare to find, track, and manage.

3. “MAKE IT POP”

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Vague design feedback IS. THE. WORST.

There is a reason, though, why this isn’t listed in the above “bad feedback types.” No matter how hard we try, there will always be the issue of unhelpful feedback. “I don’t like it” or “We love the direction you’re going in, but it’s not quite right” will probably always exist.

Working with non-creatives can be challenging, and is the most often scenario when this type of feedback arises. However, if we can surface the answers to questions such as these, we can pinpoint the specific issue.

  • Which specific part of the design do they mean?
  • Are the colors an issue? Is it the font?
  • Do they just hate the whole thing?

Oftentimes, jumping on the phone with your client can help them articulate what they truly mean and want, sharing the context you need to resolve the issue.

So what does great design feedback look like?

The design feedback we want to collect is:

1. SPECIFIC

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The best feedback types include these considerations:

  • Timely: What is the priority and where does it fit in the hierarchy of changes?
  • Concise: What exactly is expected to be fixed or changed?
  • Realistic: Is this something achievable in the budget and given timeframe?
  • Contextual: Where exactly does the issue appear?

2. VISUAL

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The reality of a picture telling 1000 words is never truer than in design feedback. “Show us, don’t tell us” would make many changes and feedback so much easier to decipher.

3. TECHNICAL

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When it comes to web design feedback, being able to replicate any design issues can be tricky. Knowing what browser, operating system, and CSS data can pinpoint why something doesn’t look right to a client. It’s quite rare that a client would send over this information in an email or spreadsheet.

Tools that lead to a better design feedback process

COMMUNICATION TOOLS

Slack: is perfect for quick feedback but it’s also difficult to keep track of. Collaborating in real-time on changes and clarifying feedback here can be more timely than back and forth emails.

Face to face feedback (or screen to screen more likely), is an excellent way to ensure that feedback doesn’t become lost in translation. When you’re able to repeat the changes and solutions back to the client in real-time you can clarify each and every item, no matter how vague the initial wording. Asking the right questions (remember: timely, concise, realistic, and contextual) may lead to finding out why your client really doesn’t like that red color.

Email is chaotic, but since everyone uses it, it’s best practice to have a plan to manage incoming feedback:

  • When a client doesn’t provide the feedback in one email but in multiple, it can be overwhelming to keep track of. Sifting through several paragraphs to find the actual changes they require is time-consuming and tedious and can blow out the project timeframe.
  • If your client is more comfortable using email, you can lead by example. Sending back a formatted list or summary of their comments will show them how to organize their feedback. And they (fingers crossed) will follow suit.

VISUAL FEEDBACK TOOLS

BugHerd: For a web project, BugHerd is one of the easiest tools to use with non-technical and non-creative clients as it requires no installation and acts as a transparent layer on a web page. Leaving a sticky-note-esque task complete with a screenshot and all the technical data required to fix the problem. It speeds up the feedback process dramatically by adding visual context and streamlined communication.

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Milanote: For static images, Milanote works in a similar fashion to BugHerd and acts like a pinboard for designs. Being a visual tool, it’s easy to keep track of which feedback comments belong to which image.

There are a lot of great visual feedback tools out there such as Asana or Invision, and many designers simply use Trello, but the beauty of these two lies in their simplicity—especially for folks who may be one or two steps removed from the design process.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, we all want great design feedback that allows us to deliver the best possible result. While laying out all expectations might require a bit more effort up front, it will result in a far smoother journey for both you and your client and teammates in the long run. So, agree on a set process, and the next time you receive that ‘long-winded email’ or ‘impossible to read spreadsheet’, it just might contain the actionable feedback that you were seeking.

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Author Bio:
Chanie Hyde is a Growth Marketer for startups (such as BugHerd) and a freelance travel writer. She has been working with dev and design teams for more than a decade, even though it did take her a few years to stop saying “make it pop”. You can stalk her professionally on Linkedin or follow her adventures on Instagram.

Illustrations by Sher Rill Ng. Find her on Dribbble.


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