How to give and take feedback for web design projects

September 2011

You’ve done all the leg work. The research was good, the sitemap made sense and the wireframes were spot on. You’ve spent the last 5 days designing in Photoshop perfecting every pixel, making sure all your buttons have a subtle gradient and that those drop shadows aren’t 1 pixel too blurry. Now it’s time to ask your client for feedback.

This is the part of the project that I dislike the most. Presenting a new design then waiting for feedback, not knowing what is going to come back at you. Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable, but you know it’s part of the job. Getting useful feedback is the hard part.

Why designers hate feedback

Feedback during the design process is good. Early feedback is even better. It leads to iterations, which should lead to improvements and a better end result for your client and their customers.

The main reason designers hate feedback is because we don’t often get the right kind of feedback.

Why clients don't give the right kind of feedback

It’s not your client’s fault. Remember, they’re not designers so they don’t know what type of feedback you’re looking for.

If you hand them a design and ask “What do you think?” they’re going to tell you what they think, which will more than likely focus on things like colours they do or don’t like, and whether their company logo stands out enough, instead of what really matters like users being able to find what they’re looking for.

We need to guide clients (and bosses and colleagues) towards giving feedback that will be useful to us as designers.

I’ve put together a few dos and don’ts below that will hopefully be useful to both sides of the party.

How to give feedback as a client

Don't give subjective feedback
I'm not a big fan of orange!

Subjective feedback is opinionated feedback. There is no logic behind it, just your personal feelings.

Do say why you don’t think something works. If a colour doesn’t work, why not? Does it not stand out enough? Is it against your brand guidelines?

Don't compare your design to other websites
That's not how Groupon does it!

The designer should have done their research and gone through iterations of user flows, sitemaps and design guidelines. So at this stage they know your business and users better than any designer at any other company, therefore they should be able to come up with the best designsolutions for you.

Do mention at the start of the project what other sites you like and what you like about them so the designer can take this into account when designing your site. And remember that just because GroupOn, Twitter or Facebook does it that way, doesn’t it’s the best way for you to do it.

Don't ask for multiple versions
Can we see one with navigation down the left and one along the top and we'll pick the one we like best?

No, no, no. It’s not about designing multiple mockups and picking the one you like best.

Do let your designer design what they believe will work best for your project, then iterate on that design based on user feedback.

Don't forget about the user
Can we have input fields for their age, address, email and phone number as well?

Don’t forget about your users, who they are and what their state of mind is when they use your website.

Do keep users in mind when you’re analysing the design and realise that they’re probably in a rush, don’t have time to do everything you want them to do and that they won’t be over analysing every graphic or pixel while doing so.

Don't be stuck to what you have in your head
I was thinking that would be blue and over here.

If you’ve already designed something in your head then why did you hire a designer?

Do let your designer do their job and come up with the ideas using their own expertise and experience that you hired them for.

Don't tell designers what your wife thought
My wife is a creative person and she thinks some sort of animation would make the page look really cool.

Your wife, or any other impartial viewer, may be creative at other things but unless they have experience designing websites then their feedback is probably not that useful.

Do keep feedback focused on what your users, your employees and you (the decision maker) think, and listen to what the designer has to say.

Don't get hung up on what other people say
I showed it to our marketing department and they think everything should be above the fold!

Getting feedback from multiple people, or departments, is good but don’t think that every piece of feedback is gold dust.

Do keep a note of all feedback, highlight any that are important and pass that onto the designer to let them decide what to do with the feedback. Remember if you ask for peoples’ opinions you’ll get a lot of feedback for feedback’s sake. Most of it is probably negligible and you can never please everybody.

Don't ask to make your logo bigger
Our logo is a bit small, can you make it bigger?

As much as you love your shiny glossy 3D logo, making it bigger isn’t going to help anyone.

Do tell your designer how great the site is looking. We like positive feedback.

How to ask and prepare for feedback as a designer

Ask for specific feedback

Don’t ask “What do you think?”. Ask specific questions. Do you think the call to action will be obvious to your users? Will users know what this input label means? Does the overall mood and tone match your business and branding?

Do as much research into your client, their business and their competitors as possible

Right at the start of the project investigate what matters to your client, what matters to their customers (users) and what they think of competitor sites. Create mood boards of screenshots from different websites to see what they like and don’t like. You’ll be better prepared for feedback if you can relate back to this research.

Do user tests early on

The best way to prove your design decisions is to base them on scientific feedback. Develop prototypes for user testing, upload your screen designs to sites like Five Second Test and Usabilla to see what other people think and use this to justify your decisions.

Ask "Why?" 5 times

For each piece of feedback continuously ask why to get to the real issue. “Why do you want to change it? Why don’t you like it? Why do you not like red? Why do you not think your customers won’t like red? Why do they think red is evil?”. Once you find the real issue you’ll be able to come up with the best solution.

Include the client throughout the process

Always keep your client in the loop. Show them results of research, show each iteration, and ask for feedback at each stage. This will help avoid a “I don’t think it’s working” email just when you thought you were about to get paid at the end of the project.

Respect each other

Most importantly remember to have respect for one another. Clients know their business better than anyone. Designers know what works well for better experiences and results online. Both parties are experts in their own way so always listen to what one another has to say and try and see it from their point of view as well.

Have you any feedback advice?

This is advice based on my own experience. How do you ask or prepare for feedback? How do you give feedback? This article is designer focused but I’d love to hear any advice from developers also. Share your comments below.

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