Whether you’re a design leader or a business owner working with designers, giving good feedback and constructive criticism can be one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of the relationship.

For a business owner working with designers, giving good feedback and constructive criticism can be one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of the relationship.

We’ve all been there … you send a request to a graphic designer with a laundry list of requirements, desires, wants, and dreams. The designer receives the instruction and, as a designer does, adds their creative flare to the project and sends back to you. You open the file and become frustrated and think, “This isn’t what I asked for at all! What an idiot, they didn’t even add this and I hate this and this and this!” While steam is flowing from your ears and your deadline is fast approaching, you start to write a scathing email to your designer.

STOP!

Designers are people too and being berated by unhelpful personal attacks is, surprise surprise, NOT going to get you the design you so conveniently have in your head, but can’t execute yourself. Take a breath and just stop.

Use constructive criticism!

This happens every damn day in a designer’s world and while it is their goal to execute the design of your dreams, it is also not feasible (or sane to think) that they can go into your head and materialize your vision.

“Design feedback is critical to the growth of designers and the successful execution of products.”

–Derek Kohn, Head of Design, GoFundMe

Feedback is a necessity, but there’s an art to this fabled constructive criticism.

Here’s what NOT to say to your designer:
  • Can you make it a little more “jazzy?”
  • I want to add some “flare” around the edges. Can you add just a bit?
  • It needs to be better, but I don’t know how, just better.
  • This isn’t really “working” for me. You know?
  • Something feels off. Can you fix it?
  • I don’t see this and this and this is there? Can you add that in the zero space that’s left so it looks like I’m hoarding elements into a 600×600 square?
  • This isn’t what I asked for. Designer proceeds to send you the list of what you sent with exactly everything included.
  • This is awful. You’re late and this is not at all what we need, so I’m not paying you for this.

This is all what we call “negative feedback” or “destructive criticism” and obviously has the opposite effect on designers—and humans in general. If your spouse or significant other said any of the above to you in relative context, what would you do? Either shut down completely or blow up wildly, right? Apply the same couple’s therapy tactics to your poor abused designer and flip your script. Because it is almost guaranteed that you’re not the only one throwing this sass at them today and you could just be the one who breaks the camel’s back and sets you back to square one when your designer fires you!

Design Feedback & Constructive Criticism

Graphic via Invisionapp.com

How to Give Constructive Criticism to Designers

Here’s how to give constructive criticism to designers so you get the design you need by your deadline. And let’s be honest, you’re not a designer so maybe your list of elements to include in the design is not feasible and looks like a kindergarten collage. Fine. That’s why you hire someone. So rather than blame the poor design on them, take a moment to really evaluate your design needs and move forward with a fresh breath.

  • Make it as specific and clear as possible. “Move this here. Change that color to this one. Remove this and replace with this. I don’t like this placement, let’s take it out and use this instead.”
  • “Thank you for this first draft, now that I see it all laid out, I realize this and this and this just aren’t working. Let’s do this instead.”
  • Reply with feedback about the design, not the designer. And be direct but not rude. No one wants a compliment sandwich anymore. It’s predictable and can lessen the need for change.
  • Find a balance between your brain and your heart. Designers are not here to serve you, they are here to work with you to make your needs and vision a reality.
  • Communication issue where you said something and it wasn’t done? Feedback is a two-way street. You’ve got to be open to receive as well. Don’t tell your designer they mess up, maybe it was lost in translation. Try this instead of calling them an incompetent idiot: “I’m not sure I was clear enough on this point. Would you like for me to clarify?”
The Takeaway

The more you can be kind and aim to work with your designer rather than against them is how you’re going to save everyone strife and frustration. No matter what relationship you’re in, clear communication, understanding, and kindness are going to get you to the finish line unscathed.

Give your designer some love, too. The compliment sandwich technique may be played out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t say nice things about what you love about the design. Positive reinforcement will give your designer a boost of confidence, and who doesn’t want that?