Better Design Feedback

Why the current design feedback loop is broken

by Darian Rosebrook
June 22, 2018

One thing I am passionate about is quality design feedback. I’ll mention in a future post that it’s sometimes best to get other eyes on your projects, but having objective, quality design feedback is something that a designer needs to be able to move forward with their design skills.

A lot of us do this already when we share process shots on social media sites like Dribbble, Behance, Facebook, or Instagram. The list goes on, but we find it fun to share exciting work that we’re currently working on.

But, if you’ve experienced what it’s like to post your work out in the open, only to have it hit a lot of negative review and a lot of unhelpful comments, then you might have realized that the feedback loop for design is currently broken.

Why the feedback loop is broken

A lot of the internet is attention culture. We like to post things because we like to seem cool or associated with cool. We think Memes are cool so we meme the shit out of our Facebook friends. We think this article is cool so we’ll upvote or clap or share the article. cough

We’ll post design work before all of the ideas are solidified because we think it’s cool to work on these edgy, upcoming brands. We think what we finished designing is cool, so we post it to every nook and cranny on the internet.

What we get in return is a culmination of three things:

  1. Other people are also trying to win the attention of others by sharing things they have created.

  2. We as viewers don’t know what to do with what you posted because there is no context

  3. We don’t have a good enough relationship to understand the context to help you where you need it most.

We like to use these social media sites in a very social setting, but we often forget that asking for feedback on portfolio sites is also a social ask. Being public facing, anyone who is anyone can (and probably will) hobble on over and leave their own opinion about our work.

The idea of giving better feedback to get better feedback

If we are constantly looking to get feedback on our work, but never help others out with feedback on theirs, we essentially position ourselves as an ask-hole.

*ask • hole:* noun Someone who always asks for advice or needs somebody to help them, but doesn’t use the advice nor return the favor when someone else asks for help

Quality feedback comes from a reciprocal relationship between two or more people. You’ve got to be willing to give great feedback if you’re wanting great feedback on your own work. Usually, this can be more productive in a team setting, where the people there are invested in the same team or goal, but often can be from people within a particular group or social circle.

If you have a relationship where you trade feedback back and forth, you’ll get much better mileage out of asking for design feedback then asking the dark void of the internet.

So, if you want to be someone who receives great design feedback on your work, you need also to be able and willing to give good design feedback to others.

What are we truly looking for in design feedback?

We need to focus our feedback to be objective rather than personally reactive. Whether or not you like how something was done is not actionable to the person asking for the work.

There are a few things to consider when you’re going and giving out feedback for something someone has created. These should also be the things you are looking for when asking for feedback.

1. Your intuitive user reaction

How does this work feel when you see it and interact with it? Are there certain elements that stop the flow through the design? Are there roadblocks or non-intuitive actions that hold someone back from finishing or taking action?

2. The solution to the goals

Did we accurately solve the problem we were tasked to solve for with this design?

3. The Designed Work

Is there an element in the design that still needs to be worked on? Are there typos or mistakes in there? Are elements to busy or clashing?

Very rarely are we actually asking for new solutions to what we have already designed. Something like that would have to be welcomed.

How to ask for design feedback

If you are asking for design feedback, ask someone you trust and know can objectively look at the work you’ve done.

Personal interests can obscure actionable feedback. If someone just says, “that’s great, I like it” when you were asking for more is not actionable and useless to your need to improve the work.

The key to getting good feedback when you ask is giving Context.

When you’re posting work to be critiqued, we need to know as much (with contracts or NDAs allowing) as we can about who we’re designing for, what was asked of you to do, and what part of the design that you are asking for feedback on.

This will look like this: (I’m using an example of finished work that I’ve completed and sent to the client a few months back)

“Here’s a logo design that I’ve been working on for a client. I’ve been having trouble making sure the kerning is right and legible at smaller sizes. Can you take a look at the letter spacing and see if there is anything that you would change with this design?”

It’s funny to use this example because I had actually posted this online as finished work, and gotten surprise feedback on a finished design.

Though I know how to welcome feedback, it was still on a piece that was already in the client’s hands. In the end, I decided they were right, and I went back and updated the design to what you see above and then forwarded that also to the client.

Where to post your work for better design feedback.

Public posting is not always the best solution. But without a lot of friends in the industry, you are sometimes left to come up with a solution.

Design portfolio sites

You still have the community of public design portfolio sites to go to, but know that it’s a public forum where anyone can leave their feedback.

Sites like Briefbox (a practice design brief site) or Dribbble can allow you to post works in progress and ask for feedback. Remember to let people know what you are asking for feedback on, and know that you’re subject to however someone from the internet black hole will be towards you.

Direct messages, Slack chats, and email chains

Having a specific design buddy can help you get a leg ahead of the slump we find ourselves in. If you can share work back and forth with each other, you have someone who knows you, and you trust to get feedback from.

These work best because the relationship you have means that they know your skills and can help you in your weak areas.

There are a few friends that I specifically go to within the Compass of Design community that we can share design back and forth quickly to get feedback on all sorts of things we’re doing.

Private design communities

A private design community means that there is some sort of quality filter put in place to try to keep the trolls out.

Usually people are added by the moderators themselves, there is an application process, or you have to register to become a member.

By having these filters in place, these groups do their best to keep the membership a high quality collection of people focused on their particular goal for the group.

There are private Facebook design groups like

  • the LogoGeek group

  • The fans of the Futur

  • The Futur Pro Group

  • This Design Life

There are private chat communities like

  • The Designership

  • The Compass of Design Community

  • DevTips

  • the seanwes community

  • etc.

You can usually get very quick feedback in communities like these. People from all around the world are constantly active and checking in to see what is fresh and new in the group.

Depending on the culture of the group, there may be certain events or group focuses which means everyone is working on the same things. Or the group may have a common goal that people are working towards.

These types of communities are great, with each platform having certain strengths or weaknesses.

This is what I aim to build with our Community 2.0

Because design feedback is important to our community group, I’ve been working non-stop to develop the perfect place for giving and receiving design feedback. I hope to have our first beta open and an initial release of our new community site at the end of June.

My focus for this site is to help designers get the answers they need to questions they’ve had, build great relationships with other designers through conversations about their work, and getting actionable feedback on the work that you share.

As a designer myself, I’ve experienced plenty of sites where getting good feedback is nearly impossible. But since the conception of the Compass of Design Community, we’ve been sharing and giving great feedback on our work over the last year.

It’s time for the group to expand and start growing into the right solution for designers looking for the same thing.

If you’re not in our group already, you may not have seen much of what is going on, but if you want to be on the waitlist for when we re-open registration for the new community site, please check in at the bottom of the community page and we’ll notify you when the new community is open and ready to go.

I want this to be one of the best places to get actionable answers and insights to what you are trying to get better at as designers. And as my mission to fix design feedback, I hope that I can solve this with the help of all of you.

So if you are looking to get good feedback on your work, hopefully today’s topic has helped.

I hope you all have a great weekend,

Darian Rosebrook, Compass of Design

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