Encourage Better Design Feedback from Your Review Session

Stakeholders aren’t born equal - and neither is the quality of their comments.

Design Thinking

Getting feedback is crucial for product designers. It helps us iterate and improve beyond the current ‘best’ version of our work. Unfortunately, good feedback is a rare occurrence between countless hours of both internal and external review sessions.

There are not many ways you can get around by with vague and subjective iterations between reviews. Sadly, not many stakeholders know how to give valuable feedback for design work. They are not the ones knowing what we’re looking for on these sessions.
For designers, creating compelling products depends on receiving good feedback that you can work with, and providing a good discussion starter when there isn’t one.

In an environment where you are the one enacting changes upon your designs, you are pretty much responsible to get actionable tasks out of those review sessions.

From my years of experience, stakeholders are usually divided into many different roles, and may provide a variety of non-productive critiques on your work, such as:

The Sage

The most mysterious figure and ambiguous comment givers.

Expect something like:

  • "It's like wearing pyjamas to work, on weekends"
  • “I think it needed a ‘magic’ touch”
  • “How can we make it minimally dense? Elegant, but with some playfulness to it”

Characteristically, the sage is basically telling us what they ‘feel’ like. They tend to tell you their mind but deliberately avoid actionable tasks in order to not appear forceful, nor provide specific details on how they would improve it. You may need to be extra patient to try and extract what they actually want.

The Salesman

Expect something like:

  • "Will you be able to adjust this part if, say, I give you updated requirements?"
  • “I really like the design! However, there is something that I wanted to change…”
  • “They’re all beautiful! Just making sure that you have more than one option for us, right? Should we move on to the second one then?”

A sweet talker and even more persuasive stakeholders.
The Salesman knows what they want and prefers to use indirect wordplay to hint at their intention. Try to ‘keep up’ with what they’re actually steering towards. If you feel like what they’re saying is not agreeable, it’s okay to be direct and say what you think. However, it is advisable to treat them with equal respect and politeness as they do you.

The War Veteran

  • "If I don’t understand what you’re doing, none of our users will."
  • “Let me tell you how I would approach this based on my 10 years experience running this business…”
  • “I’ve been studying our user base, and this won’t work because...”
Rise and fall of ideas, high and lows of the business, struggles through good and bad reviews, they’ve seen it all.
Oddly enough, many of these arguments sound pretty valid and convincing. The War Veteran, along with HiPPO (stands for Highest Paid Person in the Office,) are often packed with experience and their own ideas. Though it is not recommended to blindly follow whatever they’re suggesting, the point is to work together and discuss possible solutions. What they’ve done in the past is to be considered according to the context of your work. Not the other way around.

The Mysterious Supporters
Believe it or not, many of the reviewers fall into the ‘silence is golden’ mindset where they basically agree with everything you’ve thrown into the table. I mean, imagine how hard it is if all you hear is:

After your 45 minutes presentation...
Designers thrive and grow on the premise of self-improvement and rapid iteration of our work. You might think this is a non-issue at first. As much as you wanted it to be the hole-in-one scenario. Try dishing out solid reason why the reviewers like it first. For example, follow up with questions like ‘What do you like about this design’ and how it could be made better?”

What to do?

1. Make sure you acknowledge and appreciate their input. Everyone in the room would ignore or pretend like they already understand what is being said in order to not be the ‘dumb’ one in the room. Consequently, you must be the one to elaborate and clarify.

Extract more information from unclear feedbacks

2. Set the expectations that, in order to not waste anyone’s time going back and forth through more sessions, perhaps you need more explanation to reach tangible results. You can phrase it as ‘so everyone will have the same goals in mind’ to ease them into deeper discussion.

3. Don’t be sarcastic or shut people out. It’s better to encourage them with thorough questioning to get what they actually wanted.

4. Ask suggestive questions to try and predict what they actually wanted:

  • [Is the font too casual in your eyes? Should I adjust more white-space between buttons?]
  • [Do you mean something to attract users and give them the best first impression of our journey? Could you please give me an example of that?]
  • [Which part do you think needs to be denser? Please give me an example of your idea of playfulness, do you have some other apps I can look into for reference?]

5. If you don’t agree with what they’re proposing, be direct and tell them so with an explanation of why it wouldn’t work in this context. Strive to get others to weigh in on their opinion and have a conversation that includes everyone.

6. Remember that people appreciate politeness. Don’t act out when they disagree with you or say something really frustrating. Instead, try detaching yourself mentally and emotionally from your designs and assess what is being said and how it could benefit the overall product.

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That being said, what you shouldn’t take for granted is when everyone agrees with you. Sure, you might feel like you’re doing something right and it was the dream session where everyone sees the same picture you do. Remember that every solution has its flaws and there’s always room for improvement.

Try asking yourself and everyone in the room how certain areas can be adjusted or if they have any problems with anything. There’s no point speaking in a room full of people if you are not brave enough to take criticism and make the ideas even better in the first place.

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Gavin Chiemsombat
I'm a full-time Product Designer (and a Front-end enthusiast) at OOZOU in Bangkok, Thailand

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