How should you feed back to your designers? DistilledLive London video discussion

We caught up with Kate Morris and Kristina Kledzik over in Seattle for the last DistilledLive video and an enthused chat on Real Company, ahem, *Stuff*. This week, we’re back in London asking lead designers, Leonie Wharton and Matt Mitchell-Camp to share their experiences when it comes to giving feed back to designers.

It’s not uncommon for a consultant or clients to be unsure of how to feed back to designers when it comes to collaborating on a project so within this video, Leonie and Matt share their experiences so you can get the best out of them and your final product.

You can read the full transcript for this video, below.

What format should you be giving feed back in?

There are numerous ways to do this and often the method you choose can depend completely on the scale of the project. We use a number of tools here at Distilled to help us collaborate more efficiently [and not just when it comes to design work.] Notable is a service which allows you to upload a piece of work for people to get an idea of what you are working on and to comment on any areas or amendments that they feel should be made. Trello is another platform that allows you to upload imagery as well as interacting directly through the embedded comments. It’s worth trying a few of these out to find the process that works best for you and your creative team.

Giving feed back when you don’t like what the designer has produced

One problem consultants can face is giving feed back when they are really not happy with anything their designer has produced. It can be quite a shock to receive something so off brief but to overcome that problem, at Distilled, we have what we call the feed back sandwich. The idea being that the two layers of bread are something positive and then the filling in the centre is trying to get to the core of the problem and why this piece isn’t working. Remember your designer is a visual person so why not show them actual examples rather than just talking so that you can create something you’re both pleased with.

Minimise Revisions

Refine your design process. Learn to give a rigorous brief to the designer and from there, build sign off points to make sure that everyone is happy throughout the project. Ultimately, constructive criticism is the best way to have a smooth running project and concise feed back will help get the brief reached in the smallest amount of iterations as possible.

Over to you

How do you find the process of giving feed back to designers? Do you have any experiences or tools to share? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

How should you feed back to your designers?DistilledLive video transcript

Matt: Today I’m going to be talking a bit about how you should feed back to your designers in order to get the best out of them and to get the best results.

Leonie: We found that consultants and sometimes clients aren’t sure how to feed back to designers properly, so we thought we’d make a little video to tell you guys how to feed back.

Matt: The first thing is what format to feed back to your designers with. There are numerous ways of doing it, and the method you choose can depend completely on the scale of the project. If it’s a large project with lots of people involved, with like all three designers say project lead, and for example at Distilled, one or two SEOs, that’s going to be different from when you’re working on one project with one person and you’re just communicating back and forth via email.

Leonie: Personally, one of my pet hates is where you get lots of different emails from lots of people in a company, and it’s hard to kind of keep track. They might be under lots of different subject headings. So Google mail collates everything if you have it under the same subject heading, and if it’s different subject headings, it’s kind of all over the place and it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. So we like to use tools at Distilled.

Matt: There are a number of tools out there that you can use, and we’ve tried things like Notable, for example, is a service that allows you to upload a piece of work, to invite whoever you want to look at that work, and then comment on it, and to point at specific areas and comment on those areas, and then you can start conversations on there.

Leonie: Trello is really good because you can have comments and then nested comments. You can do that on a Google Doc as well, but in Trello it has got the ability to upload imagery. One downfall that I find with Trello is that you can’t actually pinpoint specific parts of the image. That’s where Notable is sometimes a bit better because you can actually point onto the image and add a little marker and then add a comment to that marker, so it’s really clear what part of the visual is being discussed.

Matt: The nature of the design process will always require there to be face conversations for receiving and giving feed back that way, which is fine. It is just that we’ve kind of learned that if you are having a face to face conversation about a piece of work, make sure that somebody is taking notes, because we’ve had it before where there’s been a conversation on a Friday evening, and then come Monday morning, you’ve forgotten all of the points that you were supposed to cover. So it could just be a bit time wasting to have to go back and kind of try and remember everything.

Leonie: Other ways that your designer might find feed back useful is if you just print out the design that has been done and then kind of scribble annotations or notes onto the piece of paper. This is fine, especially for smaller projects, and it’s quite a nice way to receive feed back. However, it’s not so good when you’re kind of editing large chunks of text, because then they’ve obviously got to type out everything that you’ve written down, and this can also get quite difficult if your handwriting is really bad. But you need to find out which way works best for your team, and try the different tools and experiment with different projects, and gradually you will kind of find a process that works best for you.

One problem that consultants can have is knowing how best to feed back when they really don’t like anything that their designer has done. It can be quite a shock if you receive a design, and it’s totally off brief and you really don’t know why your designer has produced that piece of work. So to overcome that problem at Distilled we have what we call the feedback sandwich. The idea is that the two layers of bread in the sandwich are something positive, a positive piece of feedback, and then the filling in the centre is kind of trying to get to the core of the problem, talking about why this piece isn’t working. As a designer, it’s nicer to have something positive to start with because you don’t feel like you’re being attacked, and you’re more likely to tune in and listen and want to solve the problem.

If your designer really is producing something that is not working at all, you’ll need to revisit the brief that’s been given to them and think about why is it that they’ve produced something so off brief. Remember that your designer is a visual person, so sometimes talking to them isn’t enough. You might need to show them visuals to explain what you mean. Perhaps, the look and feel of the piece is wrong for the target audience so you might want to show them a visual that you feel is leading them in the right direction.

Matt: Another thing when feeding back, I’ve worked with consultants before who have been apologetic about the way they’re feeding back as if they felt like they’ve given too many rounds of feedback or they’re being too pernickety with what they’re saying. Actually, it was the complete opposite. I just think that you should never be scared of giving too much feedback. As long as you’re being clear about what you’re asking and you’re describing it in a way that your designer understands, then that’s great. That way you’ll ensure that you get a final result that both yourself and your designer is really happy with, and that hopefully will be a really nice piece of work.

Leonie: At Distilled also when we’re giving feedback, we like to give praise verbally and ideally in front of other team members.

Matt: If somebody does a piece of work that everybody is really happy with, then that will be shared on GPlus, shared over email threads in which everybody is included. As a designer, that’s the best thing you can hear if somebody loves the work you’ve done and is shouting about it, then that’s great.

Leonie: However, if you’ve got some quite negative feedback, you definitely want to give that in private. Again, make sure it is also written down in an email so they know how to move on with the project.

Matt: Worst case scenario is that you just get round after round of feedback, and it can go on for ages. Ultimately, it’s a case of just refining the design process. Firstly, and most importantly, give a very rigorous brief to the designer, and from there have sign off points with everybody involved to make sure that everybody is happy with the project at each stage. These can be things like creating a style guide in Pinterest, get that signed off, and then get concepts signed off, go to wireframe, get that signed off, then start on the design, and just do it step by step until the piece is complete.

Leonie:  It’s important to think about who is giving the feedback so you definitely want to be keeping all the right team members involved. However, it can be difficult for your designer if feedback is coming through lots of channels. So, ideally the feedback should come through the person who has the final say on the project. That’s probably internally with a consultant and then the consultant should be liaising with the client and getting final feedback from the person at the top of the chain there as well. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a project and somebody quite high up in the company saying ‘no’ that’s actually totally off brief. They should have been involved throughout the entire process, and that means you won’t get that situation.

Matt: Well, I hope you found some of the things that we’ve been talking about today helpful. As we’ve mentioned, there’s not really one specific way that you should feedback to your design team. It’s just a case of, as an ongoing practice, just stepping back and looking at the way feedback occurs between your teams and then just making a conscious effort to improve that.

Leonie: Just remember that constructive criticism is the best way to have a smooth running project; small kind of bullet pointed lists and concise feedback will really help the project be completed in the smallest amount of iterations possible.