thumbs up, thumbs down: always balance good and bad feedback
To err may be human, but to give good web design feedback is divine.

That’s not exactly how the proverb goes, but maybe it should be because good feedback is essential. When communicated effectively, revision requests make all digital marketing endeavors more successful.
“There are no problems—only opportunities to be creative.”—Dorye Roettger
Some issues that come up when doing work online are black and white. It’s easy to spot and fix problems like a social media post with an outdated logo, a “download” button that has a broken link, a webpage with wonky italicization because of an unclosed <em> tag, or a copyright statement with last year’s date in your footer. These kinds of errors are straight-forward and actionable.

Things sometimes start to get more complicated and ambiguous when you get to the design evaluation stage of a website project.

To stay on track, avoid subjective recommendations. Personal preference definitely will always play a role during a design review, but it’s often more helpful to designers when you give feedback that’s informed by definitive information, like research findings or goals from the creative brief.

For example, rather than saying you hate the purple type used dominantly throughout a layout, be more objective when asking your designer to explore removing that color. Give an objective reason, such as “I’d like to go with a different color because purple isn’t part of our company’s brand palette. Let’s stick with the hues specified in our identity guidelines for copy for the bulk of the typesetting.”

According to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, people tend to act on feedback only 30% of the time. To make sure your concerns aren’t forgotten or overlooked (and keep your web designer inspired and engaged), one way to make sure your biggest concerns are addressed and not missed is to avoid sharing feedback on things that don’t matter.

Here are three additional tips to keep in mind when framing web design feedback:

1. Make it a discussion

“A little less conversation, a little more action, please.” Sorry, Elvis fans, but you shouldn’t follow the King of Rock and Roll’s lead when it comes to providing feedback to web designers.

Don’t skip the step of thoroughly reviewing a design by going right to recommending edits. Set aside time to have an initial discussion so that you postpone making judgments until you fully understand the rationale behind your designer’s work.

As a bonus, by making time to have a conversation with your designer about the design, you’ll have the chance talk through something that isn’t working. This is especially useful if you can’t precisely explain what you’re having trouble with.

Through conversation, they may drill down to the reason you’re asking clarifying questions, making it easier for them to address your concern in the next iteration productively.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “Why?”

See something you want to change? Before giving a designer what you think is constructive criticism, ask a question to get more information (and, if necessary, ask an open-ended follow-up question, like “Would you tell me more about that?”).

With enough upfront back and forth, you might find out if what you perceive as “wrong” is subjective (and up for debate) or if you might have identified something that’s legitimately off and needs to be fixed due to your designer’s misunderstanding of the creative brief.

For instance, is it ever okay to slam a web designer during a critique if they used Comic Sans in the design?

Maybe. Maybe not. Web design is tricky. It never hurts to avoid making assumptions by initiating conversations to get clarification on the thinking behind your designer’s choices.

2. Avoid ambiguity (yet don’t be too specific)

Want the best design possible? Make absolutes your enemy. When you spot a problem, mention it but don’t tell the designer how to solve it.

If you’re by nature someone who likes to be helpful, not giving advice might seem counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t you help someone if you can? One reason is that it’s much easier, as a designer, to fix something that’s wrong if when a client describes the issue instead of offering up a way to fix it.

Web design projects work best when they are collaborative. If you share feedback and also say how you want the problem resolved, you’re limiting possible outcomes and just getting production help pushing around pixels.

Remember: the most useful feedback is precise, but not restrictive.

Put your trust in the process—and, your web designer

Designers love design. For most, it’s their driving passion. If you’ve chosen to hire a designer because you like their work and admire their creativity, extend that trust them to during the design evaluation stage and give them the freedom to design a new solution that addresses your concerns.

Designers want to succeed and want their clients to succeed. When you provide feedback that isn’t limiting, you give your designer the license to explore options and come up with a thoughtful and fitting solution that meets your business goals and helps your customers.

3. Balance the good and bad

Giving and receiving feedback is notorious for creating anxiety and friction. The process isn’t meant to hurt feelings, but if you only include criticisms when sharing feedback, your designer might understandably feel hurt. One way to combat potential feelings of negativity and stress involved is to make an effort to recognize signs of progress when reviewing a design.

A spoonful of sugar … makes the design feedback go well

According to Harvard researcher Teresa M. Amabile, motivation is an integral part of doing meaningful work because “the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”

Be a good listener, keep an upbeat attitude, and show your designer that you’re not going to pick apart every aspect of their work by being positive and prioritizing the things that demand attention. Ultimately, it’s all about creating trust during the critique so you can move the design forward in the right direction.

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