The Art Of Peer-To-Peer Product Design Feedback

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Damian Rensen

Updated Oct 3, 2023 • 14 min read
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Design feedback is a core part of the project creation process. Feedback sessions expose designers to other perspectives, improvisations, and possible enhancements to improve the final product’s overall design.

Product design, in and of itself, is a very broad concept that revolves around the very simple idea of generating and developing an idea that solves user problems, addresses specific needs, and aligns everyone to the same page.

Peer-to-peer feedback is a crucial step in the design solution’s iterative process. This needed step allows other designers to lay a fresh set of eyes on the project and provide actionable feedback. Whether it’s positive or negative, constructive criticism is the heart and soul of creating great products.

In this article, we’ll cover tips and tricks on how to give, ask, and receive quality feedback to improve a certain design and the skill set of the designer.

Why is feedback important in the design process?

The design feedback process revolves around providing clear direction and sharing constructive, effective feedback. Design critique is a powerful tool that spells the difference between well-thought strategies and fantastic blunders. It’s a collaborative process that, when done right, is beneficial to both business and end users.

As far as goal-oriented projects go, design critique objectively entertains the suggestions of all parties involved – leaving you with a product that fulfills all requirements efficiently, aesthetically, and wholly.

Essentially good feedback aims to do three things:

  • Keeping an objective view - the feedback stage forces the designer to take a step back from the vacuum and reassess everything. Void of personal preference, it breaks down what you think you know about your website or app. It allows you to detach yourself from emotionally bonding with a feature that will not provide added value. Whether it’s negative or positive feedback, keeping an objective view is a must.
  • Fulfill customer needs - great feedback creates a better solution that’s aimed at fulfilling customer needs. Its basis is tied to an overall goal that makes the project better.
  • Create action - good feedback should be meaningful, insightful, and actionable. Not only does it realign next steps. It should also create a better understanding of what needs to be done moving forward.

Once a designer has worked on a project long enough, they can be blinded to their design’s shortcomings and pitfalls.

From other project members to end users, getting quality feedback allows the designer to step away from the vacuum that is his/her thoughts. Not only this but receiving comments from designers more skilled than you should propel your project forward in the right direction.

How do you give good design feedback?

Better design feedback leads to better products. So how can you leave better suggestions? Here’s what you could do to give great design feedback.

Make sure you have the right context

As much as it’s the responsibility of the requesting party to provide their judge with the right context, the person giving feedback should make it a point to ask questions. Making sure that they have sufficient information on the project before they add comments is quite essential.

It’s important to know the goals, metrics, and target audience of the design/project you’re reviewing. Without this baseline information, it would be impossible to generate feedback with sound, objective arguments and we would fail to move the project further along the design process.

In short, to give good feedback, make sure you know the context of the project.

If, for example, you’re reviewing a mobile web app targeted primarily at mobile users, it would be foolish to suggest for the navbar’s height to be set to anything greater than 100px (which is a standard) without the right justification.

At that point, it’d take up a third of your screen and waste the crucial first seconds of a visitor seeing your website.

Don’t come with personal opinions

Product design feedback isn’t real feedback if you come with personal opinions. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have in the industry. If you don’t have arguments for your feedback, then it’s merely a personal opinion.

Our profession isn’t necessarily an art form. We solve problems and help users to achieve their goals. To effectively accomplish that, we need feedback with solid arguments while keeping the final objective in mind.

For instance, if the feedback requester asks you if you think a navigation bar with a green color will work and you answer with: “No, I don’t like it”, then you’ve failed to give objective feedback with relevant reasoning in the context of the end product.

Your own taste and opinion won’t matter in that situation. What’s important is to know what’s trying to be achieved and helping the designer and project manager to achieve that.

For example, if you don’t like that same button but believe it achieves the final objective, then you could say “I think that works”. The goal is more important than your own taste.

Or, more importantly, when you don’t think it’ll work, you could say: “I don’t think that button will work because your target audience has a particular affinity with X color. Perhaps you could try that out?”.

In this example, you were able to articulate your thoughts while providing sound arguments that the designer could ponder on for future reference.

The “why” is always important and if you’re providing feedback, make sure to give logical trains of thought that could either be proved or refuted.

Give suggestions

As we review someone’s work, we want to give constructive feedback. That said, it’s good to promote self-reliance and let the designer think for themselves before they apply anything. Giving clear and concise instructions might be effective, but it takes away the ability for the designer to think for themselves.

After all, we want them to become independent thinkers, not robots. In addition, the feedback requester has all the right information and context, so for the feedback givers to give clear instructions might not work, because we do not have all the information at hand.

Furthermore, even though sometimes we think we have all the answers, sometimes we’re wrong or don’t have the proper experience. Let the designer know that the feedback is only from your experience, and that they should take it with a grain of salt.

The requesting party should realize that feedback isn’t meant to be immediately implemented. The given comments are meant as suggestions for routes that could be explored to test the validity of a thought process.

Be kind

By all means, give feedback and be honest, but it’s good to keep in mind that there is a person on the other side.

Truth be told, even though we say that we are not our work, when a person works for a considerable amount of time on a project, we put a bit of ourselves in it. Giving positive feedback every once in a while is an easy way to start building better working relationships with your team.

A particular outcome often represents how we think and how we feel about a specific problem. Therefore, it’s good to stay respectful and keep someone’s feelings into consideration.

Better yet, offer up a “love sandwich”! Begin with something you think is good and follow up with the things you feel concerned about. Then after that, end it on a high note. This way, you’ve made the designer aware of what can be improved and you won’t have destroyed their feelings.

Requesting/receiving feedback: improve the feedback process

The second sprint session ends and you’ve finished the first draft of your wireframe. It’s now time to request (and receive criticisms).

Set a meeting with your team and come in with a “ready-to-learn” mindset. Here are a few other things to remember when you’re looking to ask for or gather feedback:

Give the proper context

The most important thing about asking for feedback is making sure the person you’re asking it from is aware of the goals, metrics, and the target audience. Without it, feedback givers might be tempted to provide feedback that aligns with their personal preference instead of to the end objective.

This could be an example of how to ask for feedback: “Hello, I made a design for X product. The target audience is Y, and the goal of this particular design is Z. Could you tell me if you think it works?” This kind of framework forces the feedback giver to stay objective and remain in the realm of the product’s goal.

Below you can see what we would say is a “bad” example of asking for feedback. The “which is better” feedback culture on Linkedin and social media in general is quite known in the design world. Designers present an image with two options and ask their followers which of the two they think is better.

First of all, the design team that poses these questions give little to no context. The result? A very subjective feedback that can be unrelated to the end goal of the product. Context is crucial because decisions should be made depending on the outcome you wish to achieve.

bad design feedback exmaple

Stay objective

Bad feedback is often rooted in subjectivity.

It is essential to stay away from subjectivity and instead, focus on objectivity – especially when dealing with negative feedback. This same principle applies for both ends of the feedback process.

Keep in mind the project’s requirements and the target audience. After all, solving the core problem and achieving the end goal is what matters the most in the product design process.

After you have given the feedback giver the right context, it is important to phrase your questions in the right way. For instance, asking “Do you like this button I placed over here?” will tempt the feedback giver to give an answer in a subjective way.

This is precisely what we look to avoid.

Instead, ask “I placed this button over here, do you think this works?”. By phrasing it that way and specifically using “works”, the feedback giver will be forced to think about the goal and remain objective and stay away from subjectivity.

The same technique can be applied when the feedback giver has already given the feedback and it tends to be more subjective. You could say: “Thanks for giving me that feedback. You mentioned X, why don’t you think that works?”. This again will force the person on the other side to rethink their answer in a more objective setting.

Remove distractions

How often do we experience situations when we’re trying to explain a very important feature, but someone is stuck up on that little ‘lorem ipsum’ copy, the border around the button, or the alignment of an image.

Instead of taking a larger perspective and focusing on functionality and user convenience, we spend thirty minutes poring over a miniscule detail that could be changed in five seconds.

To keep people focused, remove distractions. Try to know the type of person you’re asking feedback from and change your design accordingly.

If you know that your design team would hyperfocus on the ‘lorem ipsum’ copy, replace it with something you used in your last marketing ad. It might take a little more work, but this ensures that the focus will stay on the goal.

Which feedback do you actually need to use?

Repeat after me: Not all suggestions need to be implemented. Especially if we know that we’ve just been given misplaced, bad feedback.

Take the suggestions and comments you receive with a grain of salt. Even though you have given context and objectives, you’ll likely have more knowledge than your reviewer on the particular subject and be able to contextualize details better.

That said, even if you don’t agree with the provided feedback, doesn’t mean that you should immediately disregard it. Take a step back and look at things from a wider perspective.

Place yourself in the shoes of the person who just judged your work. Imagine implementing their suggestion in your mind’s eye, see the difference, and assess the outcome.

Who knows? You may find something you didn’t see before.

Don’t take it personally

No pain, no gain. Putting yourself out there and collecting feedback for something that you worked long and hard for can be tough. It is understandable to have spent a significant amount of time on a product and put a little piece of yourself in it.

While negative feedback can hurt, keep in mind that the feedback is a critique of your design, not you, personally. The moments we receive the toughest feedback are also the moments we can learn the most as designers.

We are not our work, and we should remember that the feedback we receive is a reflection of our work, something that could always be changed and improved.

At the end of the day, we’re working towards building a great product for the consumer, not the designer. Even great design feedback could leave the best product teams a little hurt.

Healthy criticism in design feedback

Receiving the appropriate design feedback disrupts the monotonous thought process and prevents creator’s block. It makes sense of the current situation and ensures that the team is headed in the right direction.

For those giving feedback, remember to place yourself in the receiver’s shoes. Know the application’s goals, metrics, and requirements when you’re reviewing it and give objective suggestions in a candid and respectful manner.

For those receiving feedback, keep in mind to brief your judges fully and remove distractions to keep the audience focused on the overarching goal. Finally, don’t be afraid to turn down suggestions if you genuinely feel as though this won’t satisfy customer requirements – not all feedback needs to be implemented.

While it may be tempting to wow your team with a big reveal at the end of the project, the constant process of design feedback leaves designers with a better product in line not only with the project goals but with what the end users need. And these are the goals of any product design services, aren’t they?

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Damian Rensen

Damian works as a UI Designer at Netguru.
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