While working through a creative process for a new project, one of the most important and helpful things is getting feedback from peers and managers. Usually, reviews and critiques are built into the timeline of a project, but not always. It’s important as a designer to make sure you set up the time for reviews and critiques. Asking for feedback can be challenging for some people and may not always come naturally, but it is undeniable that the creative process will flourish when you receive input from those working around you.
We asked Carlye Cunniff, a Senior UX Designer at Amazon and UX mentor at RookieUp, to share some in-depth advice on how to navigate critiques, how to use great feedback, and how to give others feedback.
Embed feedback into your design process
Asking for input and feedback should be imbedded in your design process – a well functioning team demands that designs are reviewed at multiple points along their path. If your team doesn’t have this type of mechanism built in, it’s your responsibility as a designer to build that culture by showing your work to your team. I think cultivating a collaborative environment comes from organic and conversational interactions – “hey, can you take a look at this?” or “can you help me work through this?” are great starting points for casual feedback.
For more formal design reviews, always start by sharing the customer problem you’re trying to solve with your design – this encourages your entire team to focus on the customer problem and how your solution solves it, rather than what they like or dislike.
Clarify where you are in the design process
I find it also helps to clarify where you are in the process before showing what you’ve got. Set yourself up for success by telling your reviewers what to focus on. For example, “I’ve just started to brainstorm some solutions” or “I’m having trouble with the hierarchy of this visual layout,” help you get the help you need, rather than “What do you think about this?”
If you’re getting critique from non-designers, it often helps to quickly define what stage you’re in, and what type of feedback you’re looking for. When showing wireframes to senior managers, I always start with a quick definition, and explanation of why wireframes are important. In the same vein, make sure you’ve set yourself up for success – if you don’t want feedback on visual design or copy, don’t include visual design or copy in your wireframes. If you’re looking for feedback on the flow of a new product, share only the flow – people will focus on what you show them (no matter what you ask for feedback on) so lead them through the process.
When receiving feedback, be sure to ask “why”
Another tactic I’ve found to be helpful when receiving feedback from non-designers is to respectfully ask why. I’ll often get feedback from senior managers that feels irrelevant or off-the-mark. Instead of ignoring it, I’ll ask “help me understand what’s making you focus there?” Or, “why does that particular UI element leave you feeling that way.” You’ll either learn that a) they don’t have a reason and you’ve forced them to think through what they said or b)(probably more often) they have a good reason, and you didn’t think through it like that before.
When you receive feedback that really is off the mark – especially when you’re asked to change something that isn’t in the best interest of your customer, always respectfully remind the person giving the critique that they are not the customer. I say things like “I hear what you’re saying, and I would like that too, but remember, we’re different than our customers.”
Another failsafe method for getting through tough leadership reviews is data. If you’re at the stage where you are reviewing semi-final designs, you should have data that backs up your decisions. Keep this data handy, and be ready to rattle it off. This works in reverse as well – if you’re not sure what feedback to actually implement, test it. I’ll often tell a senior manager that I’ll test their idea, if it works better than my idea, I’m happy to use it.
A few extra tips for giving critique
Feedback is a crucial part of the design process – as designers, we have to ask hard questions of each other. Your role as a team member is to help your teammates think through their own work – because of this, I often format my feedback in the form of a question. “Have you thought of this?” “Why did you decide to use a text link there instead of a button?”
If the person asking for feedback hasn’t given you context, always ask them to back up. Get them to state the customer problem they are solving (if they can’t state it, challenge them to go back and clarify their work). Ask them to tell you what they want feedback on – “what is out of scope?”
My philosophy is to help people solve design problems themselves – I rarely tell a designer what I think they should do, but ask them questions that helps them figure out what they should do. Keep in mind that in order to build trust, feedback needs to be a two way street. If a peer or more junior designer is asking you for feedback, walk over to their desk every once in awhile and ask for their thoughts as well.
In summary, receiving actionable critique is one of the most important aspects of the design process and it’s important to take steps to make critique and feedback an active part of every project. When preparing to ask for your next piece of critique, consider these next steps:
- Identity the relevant team members, non-designers, and stakeholders at your company who could provide feedback. If you need feedback from someone outside of your company, platforms like RookieUp make it easy to connect with UX mentors and other creative professionals experienced in giving design critique.
- Create a process that treats critique as a natural part of the design process rather than as an afterthought. Make sure you have a repeatable way to ask for feedback for all future projects. If necessary, hold a quick meeting with your team on the value and best practices of critique so everyone is on the same page.
- Ensure you have a list of questions written down that you can ask every time you request critique.
- Understand your goals for asking for critique and ensure the conversation stays on track rather than turning into a brainstorming session that results in changes to your design that don’t fit the end users’ best interest.
If you’d like to get UX critique from an experienced UX designer, check out the UX mentors on RookieUp!
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