How to avoid friction when receiving feedback on your design.
It usually starts like this:
I don’t like the blue here, can you please change to something more… red-ish?
This is generally enough for a designer’s face to turn.. 😡 red-ish and internally blame the poor bastard’s parents for bringing him to this world. Probably also questioning why someone with such poor fashion taste would even dare question his or her Design choices..
I bet every designer who will read this has encountered similar situation no matter their specialty. Because Design is accessible and because it speaks to people, it is easy to fall in and give a very subjective feedback.
Yes. Subjective feedback are worthless (unless you can get 4000+ of them). And no, designers shouldn’t be taking these feedback into account even if that come from their CEO (easy to say, right?).
Subjectivity doesn’t help so your role as a designer is to translate these into objective feedback. For this, both parties need perspective, starting by yourself, the designer.
Your choices aren’t yours
Designers are designing for people, with business in mind. The choices you make doesn’t belong to you and a Design process is here to guide you. This process is your backup, you become the end-user’s voice through methodic design assumptions.
Design process (for real)
Following a User centered Design process such as Design thinking will backup your choices from research to deliverables. You build your decisions with an empathic lens reminding that these decisions aren’t yours personally but for the people who will use your product. Let’s assume we ALL do this right, moving on :).
Design with data
It’s hard to set if you are in a startup, but worth the trouble. Data can greatly help you taking early decisions while researching and defining what you are trying to solve. It also gives designers objective insights as long as these numbers are meaningful. Ideally data should follow you all along the process and after release to check if your assumptions were correct.
Bringing a design team to maturity often goes through documentation. Following pre-defined rules such as brand guidelines and Design systems make decision making easier. Those are very powerful tools because the team spent time researching and defining each style or component and because these decisions have been communicated and confirmed among your organization, you are backed up.
The important thing to understand is that critics aren’t directed to you personally and it is your job to remind others that the choices you’ve made are the results of a long process. If you don’t have any of that, it is basically your subjective opinion versus someone else point of view. And sure, as a designer you might have picked a better option based on pure experience but it also shows clear lacks in your design process.
Educate your surroundings
Be the bigger person here and instead of losing it, try to advocate objective thinking. Bring back the people who will be using your product at the center of the discussion:
I am afraid that people might associate red with some error occurring. Keeping our final user in mind, don’t you think blue to be more suitable?
It’s a stupid example, but you probably get the point.
And it works. Most of the time it puts things into perspective and will remind most people that Design has many hidden considerations.
It is important for designers to get feedback at various stages of the design process. Asking people their opinion will greatly help you check if you haven’t done the same mistake by letting your personal preferences take the lead on your design decisions. Educating your surroundings, getting use to subjectivity and smoothly redirecting the discussion toward objectivity should be on every designer’s top soft skills list.
If that is possible get critics early and by peers. Peers are just like you experts and will be able to give you a fresh look at your work with constructive criticism. Keep larger audiences for when you have a clear design to avoid misunderstandings and ask specific questions, don’t let your audience completely on their own, this will most likely result in subjective thoughts.
Sometimes you will face criticism that won’t go your way and still have a clear reasoning from a different angle. Let’s take an easy example of your design being criticized by a marketer you are working with for a project. Her point of view is that your design doesn’t convey a strong impact and people won’t be attracted and this might affect her User Acquisition target. Just like you she has experience in her field and knows that the creative as-is is an issue.
Cooperation and Compromise
Both parties are aiming for the greater good of a similar product. It is a good occasion to show off your soft skills once again. Use the expertise of this person to learn a few things about UA, it will make you stronger and avoid tensions. Be advocate of your design decisions and find a compromise through cooperation. Same process can be applied if a disagreement pops up with a PM or an engineer. Designers should be people’s voice but sometimes we also need to compromise to meet business or development requirements.
Learning through data has become too easy to not be using it. Anything can be tested, as long as your dataset is properly managed and big enough to be worthy. This should resolve any persistent friction for good.
Even make it a thing by hosting Design Critic sessions. It is a good thing for designers to not be involving personal feeling over design works. Advocate your design decisions and train your coworkers to give objective, constructive feedback. Be precise when asking for feedback, it will reduce the subjectiveness of their answers. Always remind people (and yourself) that your work consists of making empathic assumptions that CAN BE WRONG. And never forget that designers are part of a production process and if you want your paycheck to be coming at the end of the month, a few concessions might be necessary.