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February 15, 2021

The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Design Feedback

Design Feedback-Featured

Graphic and visual designers help turn the message and goals of marketers and sales reps into easy-to-understand and captivating works of art. But, it often takes several rounds of design feedback before you can reach that final product.

Just as receiving design feedback can be a challenge for the designers, so too can giving it for marketers, sales reps and organizational leaders. Communicating feedback and revisions effectively and clearly can make or break a project. 

With that in mind, I spoke with some of New Breed’s other designers to get some insight into the do’s and don’ts for giving feedback to make the process just a little easier. 

Do: Know Some Design Vocabulary 

One of the most common roadblocks between designers and non-designers is terminology. The more design lingo you can familiarize yourself with, the greater likelihood of being able to give specific, actionable feedback to your designers. 

“Opt for less cooks in the kitchen when giving design feedback. Having too many people involved in the review process can muddle the overall goal and slow down the project,” says Senior Designer Sadie Prouty. “It can also create conflicting messages for the designer. Be specific and mindful, know some basic design language and align with your team before presenting your initial reactions."

Some common design terms that are helpful for feedback include: 

  • Serif and San-Serif: Two different kinds of typography styles — serif fonts have small lines and hooks at the end of their strokes, while san-serif fonts do not
  • Kerning and Tracking: Kerning is the spacing between individual letters, while tracking is a uniform amount of space between each character in a word
  • Widows, Orphans and Runts: All related to typography issues you may want to address. Widows are paragraph-ending lines that occur on a new page or column. Orphans are paragraph-beginning lines that occur on a new page or column. Runts are single words occurring on a new line
  • Hue, Tint, Tone and Shade: All related to changes made to colors, hue is a base color. To request the designer try a different tint is to add white, a tone is to add gray and a shade is to add black 
  • Gradient: The gradual shift from one color to another
  • Opacity: The transparency of the image. The lower an object’s opacity, the more see-through it is. 
  • White space: Also known as negative space and not to be confused with color, it’s the amount of empty or unoccupied space in a design. 

While these are just a handful of terms that can be helpful when delivering feedback, there are truly mountains more. Teams that understand each other ultimately produce better work, so consider starting knowledge sharing sessions with your designers. 

The more informed your designers are about your messaging or goals, the better the design. The more educated you are on the design process and the terminology, the better feedback you can give. 

Don’t: Practice the “Sandwich Technique” 

You might not know it by name, but you’ve probably practiced the sandwich technique in the past (or been on the receiving end of it). 

The sandwich technique bookmarks a piece of negative feedback with a few positive notes to essentially lessen the blow. Let’s roleplay — pretend you’re the designer. 

“I love what you did with this color palette, it’s so warm and inviting,” says the reviewer. “That said, I’m not sure the value prop is clear in this design. The background shapes are really neat.”

It might be nice to know that someone likes your design, but the biggest takeaway here is that it inevitably doesn’t deliver. The fact of the matter is, the sandwich technique can distract from fundamental or essential feedback and often makes the “positive feedback” come off as insincere. 

While it’s important to be considerate of your designer’s feelings, they’re professionals with a job to do. If most of the feedback is spent lauding the design and glazing over issues, they’ll leave without a clear direction on what to improve upon. Being direct with your designers helps them do their job and helps you reach your goals of a given design. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share positive feedback, that’s always welcome. Just make sure you deliver it in such a way that doesn’t feel like a distraction from negative or constructive feedback. 

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Do: Be Clear, Comprehensive and Direct  

With that in mind, it’s just as important to be tough with your designers, but stay constructive whenever possible. 

While designers do the technical work, marketers and strategists can provide the necessary insight and creative direction to fuel their efforts. That makes the delivery of feedback a foundational aspect of bringing projects through to completion. 

In order to meet deadlines and deliver work that accomplishes its intended purpose, feedback must be clear, helpful and direct. Even if that feedback is a little tough. 

As I said, designers are professionals. They’re not going to improve unless they are challenged, so not every piece of feedback is going to be positive. As long as you approach the review with an air of support, it’s likely to land well. 

There is an old adage: “Don’t tell me problems, give me solutions.” When it comes to design feedback, that isn’t always applicable. 

As the person ultimately doing the work, the designer may not align with your solution or might not be able to deliver upon your solution. Instead, a great method is to describe why you think something is a problem. This helps the designer work with you on the solution and also encourages you to share all feedback — even problems you don’t have the answer for. 

“Don't be shy about expressing your full vision. Even if you consider yourself a numbers person that doesn't know creative, the designer can translate your input, however abstract or jumbled, into effective content that says exactly what you wanted to say,” says Inbound Journalist Liza Shkurina. “Whatever emotions or instincts come up during the feedback process, verbalize them without hesitation.”

For example, don’t just tell the designer the CTA can’t go at the bottom of the page. Explain that heatmap data suggests users don’t make it to the bottom of the page. In this case, the solution may not be to move the CTA, but rather to create more visual cues guiding users down the page. 

Finally, in the interest of being helpful, it’s always best to consolidate feedback during specific timeframes and rarely — if ever — in the moment. Let your designers design without you over the shoulder telling them to increase the opacity by 2%. 

Don’t: Rewrite Content Post-Design

A common joke among designers is that designs are never truly final. To mark a design file “-Final” is to invite devastation. I’m exaggerating of course, but it’s no question that letting feedback pile up outside of defined stages can cause projects to tumble past their deadlines. 

While that’s enough reason to compile and deliver your design feedback during pre-determined times, it’s also a reason to honor those periods and avoid making changes after designs have been finalized.  

Oftentimes, designers conceptualize and create visuals or layouts around already existing or finalized copy. Dramatically changing copy or other content after designs have been finalized and approved can have a significant impact on the layout or look and feel of that design, requiring more changes and thus, more feedback. 

“When giving design feedback on a piece, it’s easy to discover the copy isn’t quite hitting the mark as originally intended and rework the message entirely,” says Senior Designer Brooke Bauer. “While it's always great to refine and edit copy, drastically changing things at this stage can make the designer rework their ideas and put more time into your project. That’s why finalizing the copy prior to sending it to design is the best method to work efficiently and save money when working with your designers.”

It’s important to confirm approvals, get input from every relevant stakeholder and hold other reviewers accountable for their feedback to make sure it’s all in at agreed-upon timeframes and finalized before going to the designer. 

Do: Ask Process and Creative Questions 

When delivering design feedback, knowing the reasoning behind creative decisions can make them more agreeable or at least more understandable. 

Asking process-driven questions from your designers helps them break down their thinking and gives them a greater opportunity to pitch their design. It also helps you and others giving feedback align design decisions with the goals of the finished product.

For instance, you can consider asking how and why questions like: 

  1. Why did you choose this color palette? 
  2. How did you arrive at this concept? 
  3. How does this visual clearly communicate our message?  

Feedback should be a collaborative process. If it’s one-sided, it can lead to oft-feared hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Giving your designers the opportunity to discuss their designs helps you understand their thought process and make them feel genuinely heard.

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Chris Singlemann

Chris is a Brand Marketer at New Breed where he is responsible for crafting design and video assets that support our brand. When he's not behind the camera, he enjoys kayaking and tending to his sourdough starter.

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