Receiving Feedback and Knowing How to Use It

Making critical design decisions can be very difficult especially for those who are either new or learning, but asking for feedback is an easy way to begin strengthening your ability to make decisions. It is incredibly important to be able to confidently make decisions because determining an objective solution for your clients is what you’re being hired to do. When you’re starting off, asking for feedback will give you a deeper understanding of the decision-making process, and in turn make you more qualified to make those decisions for your clients.

Why you should be asking for feedback

It’s easy to let our egos get the best of us because as designers we get wrapped up in our process and assume we are making all of the right decisions which typically isn’t the case. We invest not only our time and effort into our projects, but also our feelings, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it’s a good sign of showing that we care; however, we tend to get too emotionally involved. When you become too attached to your work it becomes difficult to make objective decisions which may affect your judgement. Receiving feedback from others outside of the project gives you the opportunity to hear raw initial thoughts when there are no emotions attached.

If you’re the only person working on a project then it’s much easier for mistakes and imperfections to fly under the radar. By having a fresh pair of eyes look at what you’re working on then you increase the chance of someone picking up on small details that need to be fixed that you’ve been overlooking. Plus, outside sources of feedback can offer different perspectives which means they can pose questions you wouldn’t have thought to ask.

The simple answer is, you’ll create better work.

How to receive feedback

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, in fact, if you don’t ask you likely won’t receive any at all. There are two approaches to requesting feedback:

  1. Simply ask for feedback
  2. Imply it by asking questions

The first approach may be straightforward, but it may not give you the results you’re looking for. Of course stating that you’re looking for feedback will make people more comfortable with actually providing you with some, but most often people are scared to get the ball rolling themselves. Giving someone feedback even when they ask for it is scary because it’s difficult to tell where to draw the line. How much feedback is too much? Do I have the right amount of context to even leave feedback? What if they had certain requirements they had to abide by? All of these questions and more run through people’s minds before they leave feedback which causes them to hesitate and ultimately decide to not leave a reply.

If you get the ball rolling then others will be more inclined to provide feedback, which leads to the second approach. First you need to provide the context of your work and answer any questions other may be wondering. Second, pose questions so they don’t have to. Just asking for feedback is extremely vague, and so the more specific you get the more likely you will get responses and valuable input. Even asking “how can this be improved” is better than requesting feedback, but I suggest being even more specific. For example, ask others how their eyes flow throughout the composition. Or if the icon you just designed clearly conveys the right message. Frame your questions in such a way that people can easily identify if something isn’t working. Don’t ask for ways to solve specific problems because that puts people in an unfair position to do the work for you and it places unnecessary pressure on them; instead you need to be asking people to identify the existing problems.

Where to receive feedback

Understanding the context of what you’re working on is crucial to knowing where to look for useful feedback. The very first thing to take into consideration is who will be using and/or viewing whatever you’re working on because if you can get in contact with that person then their feedback can potentially be the most beneficial. Although users aren’t necessarily designers they’re feedback is incredibly useful in determining how things are expected to function or be perceived by the intended audience.

If you aren’t receiving feedback from a potential user then be sure that the people you are requesting feedback from are qualified to do so. Meaning, you’re going to get more value out of what a designer will have to say compared to someone with no experience in that field.

Dribbble is an excellent resource for getting helpful feedback because it’s a very diverse community of designers, but what makes them all even more credible is that every member can only join if they received an invite. Having an invite-only community ensures a higher standard of quality because not just anyone can join, and so Dribbble has become an engaging place for giving and receiving feedback. If you are on Dribbble then start asking people for feedback, and begin asking questions to help identify the issues. If you aren’t on Dribbble yet then below are some other options you may not have considered.

Behance always tends to slip my mind because I don’t use it very often and I tend to view it as other people’s secondary portfolio, but what’s great about Behance is their Work in Progress (WIP) feature. What makes this feature so effective is that it pushes WIP posts to the very top of your followers’ activity feed. Behance goes a step further to make it even more visible by making the card size larger than the rest of the activity so it’s visually separated from the rest of the content. The WIP feature helps you easily document your process and also lets you receive feedback along the way. Mikey Burton has recently started to share some of his progress on Behance which can be seen here. Another great example of this feature, but with more engagement, can be seen on Nathan Yoder’s Wedding Invitation. Although I haven’t tried it out for myself, I intend to with some upcoming projects.

Instagram and Twitter are unlikely places to look for feedback, but I’ve seen cases in which both turned out to be extremely helpful. With Instagram, the feedback you receive will only be as good as the people that are following you. If you don’t necessarily curate your feed to display your work then you most likely won’t get the kind of feedback that’d be helpful. The same goes with Twitter, but the reason I listed Twitter on here is because of the limited reply length. With only 140 characters to provide feedback, people have to make sure that they are getting straight to the point. So there isn’t room for them to necessarily give you a solution, and instead they can simply point out the problems. If you’re going to ask for feedback on Twitter then be sure to actually upload your image on Twitter versus linking to it because your followers are going to be less inclined to click through the link. Having the photo there for them makes it quick and easy for them to give you a short response.

Outside of the digital world, take the time to meet up with other like-minded individuals. When you actually meet in person you can better feed off of each other and build momentum versus having to sit around and hope someone will write you a reply. For students, take advantage of having a bunch of designers and professors around you. In class, pose questions about your work because during critiques others will be scared to poke and prod at what you’ve done. You’ve got to be the one to initiate the critique and open it up for discussion.

What to do with feedback

It’s easy to take in feedback, but then completely disregard what has been said because you don’t agree with them. This tends to be the case when you become too attached to your work, and sometimes you need to take a step back to separate yourself from the work so you can clearly make objective decisions. If the people giving you feedback are qualified to do so then understand that they most likely aren’t giving you arbitrary feedback.

My stubbornness to listen to others will sometimes gets the best of me, and so I have to remind myself of what my goal is: to create better work. With that in mind, I decided to experiment with what I did with feedback. Previously, I wouldn’t even bother trying some suggestions that I would get because I figured most of what I heard didn’t make much sense. I thought the feedback I was receiving was wrong, and I was right. After reevaluating why I wanted to seek out feedback I took a radically different approach and began doing everything people were telling me to do. Initially it hurt me to try out certain things like adding drop shadows or changing typefaces, but I learned something very valuable: I can try it, but I don’t necessarily have to keep it that way. Beforehand, I wasn’t trying out anything and so my design as well as my thoughts were left stagnant, but by using this new approach of doing everything other people were telling me to do I was challenging myself and taking on new perspectives. This allowed me to separate myself from my work a bit more so I could then make better decisions, and it ultimately helped me create better work because I was conscious of how other people were seeing the problems.

Lastly, listen to the masses. If people are continually telling you something looks off or doesn’t work then that means something needs to change. You’re a designer, don’t let your arrogance cloud your decision making skills.

In the end you need to understand who you’re receiving feedback from. Professionals are able to offer you valuable design advice that is objective rather than subjective, and their experience gives them credibility. Users will tell you how things will actually be used, read, or seen, and so they can tell you what’s confusing or point out what isn’t working. You shouldn’t seek design advice from users; instead you can receive notes on content/delivery.

By receiving feedback, you are not only going to strengthen your work but you are also getting the opportunity to see how others make decisions. Don’t treat feedback as a means of easy decision-making instead it should be treated as a learning experience. The feedback process is meant to challenge you. Getting to see your work from others’ perspectives puts you in a better position to recognize and solve the problems yourself.

To conclude, here’s a quick recap of everything:

Why you need feedback

  • To get better at decision making
  • To create better work

How to get feedback

  • Actually ask for it
  • Urge people to give you feedback by asking specific questions

Where to get feedback

  • Actual People
  • Dribbble
  • Behance
  • Sometimes Instagram or Twitter

What to do with feedback

  • Actually use it, but know that what you try isn’t necessarily final