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Your project will fail without good design feedback. Full stop. As a product owner, your thoughts on a design allow us to know if we’re headed in the right direction for the end user and help keep us all on the same page.
But the ability to give good feedback doesn’t come naturally to most and can even feel pretty daunting. Maybe you think your feedback will hurt someone’s feelings or that you aren’t qualified to provide it. But both of those ideas are dead wrong. Any designer worth their salt has years of critique under their belt, some of it quite blunt and harsh, and have developed a thick skin. More than that, a good designer knows that their client has the inside knowledge they need and will seek that out.
Good feedback pushes designs further and makes the team think about the project from different perspectives. Bad feedback leaves a team confused, unmotivated, and frustrated. Invariably, every project that ended with an effective design had an open and honest exchange of ideas and opinions between the product owners and the design team.
After working on a wide variety of projects for over a decade, I’ve learned that there are some key things you can do to provide great feedback.
A Partnership Based on Trust
Every project should be a partnership between product owners and the design team. That might seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised. Part of trusting one another is understanding everyone’s roles and responsibilities when developing a product. For designers, we’re here to help determine the best user experience, features, and user interface for your product. For product owners, whether you’re a founder, a CEO, CTO, or any other type of stakeholder, you’re here to make sure that we understand your business, your business goals, and your industry.
Understanding these roles provides foundational trust, making it easier for both stakeholders and designers to listen to one another and to lead in the area where they hold a higher level of expertise. This fosters better communication and collaboration, which in turn immediately makes your feedback that much stronger.
Feedback is a Conversation, Not a Directive
It’s easy to become dictatorial in your feedback. On the surface that makes a lot of sense—you’re paying the bills so it should be done how you want it done. But what’s the point in hiring well-trained designers with a wealth of experience if you won’t let them guide you through the design process?
Good feedback is conversational. That means product owners can’t just give orders to the design team and expect them to follow blindly. If you have a concern with how something is working, share that concern along with the reasoning behind it. Then let the design team explain their thought process behind the initial design decision. This back-and-forth conversation allows us to make sure that we provide the true best path to the end user through brainstorming and collaborating. In the end, having a healthy dialogue will always get you a better product.
The Devil is in the Level of Detail
One of the worst things you can do when giving feedback is to be vague. It’s so easy to say things such as “I just don’t like it” or “I’ll know it when I see it.” Those comments don’t help anyone…at all. What is the design team supposed to do with that type of feedback? They are not mind-readers. At best, they’ll take shots in the dark until you’re happy, but that’s going to waste a lot of time and completely drain them of creativity and motivation.
Remember that feedback is much much more than just getting your approval on a design. We need you to be an active participant in this process. Really dig into what it is that is causing you concern and we can have a conversation (hmm, there’s that word again…) about how we can fix it or why it’s even there in the first place.
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Feedback
In case it’s not clear enough yet, every project is a collaborative effort. It can be tempting for product owners to not take an active role during the earlier stages of a project, as the design team presents their work, give the go-ahead but then ask for fundamental changes later on. Do you know when the best time to give feedback is? When user flows and designs are being presented to you. Do you see something specific that doesn’t feel right or have an issue with how a specific feature is being designed? Speak up and let us know now rather than keeping it to yourself until later.
That being said, some of the best feedback that we can receive is after a product owner has taken the time to really dive into the deliverables on their own after the initial presentation and deeply considered what is being proposed. Instant feedback is great but well-thought-out feedback is better.
Be Ready for a Challenge
All great partnerships involve partners challenging one another. Sometimes your feedback will be directly opposed to our instincts and experience. That means that we’re going to push back and ask you why. If you want the logo to be bigger, we’re going to ask you how you envision that making the product better.
We don’t push back because our feelings are hurt or because we want to marginalize your input. What we’re aiming to understand is how making that change will help us engage your audience and reach your goals. Working to understand each other may very well be the catalyst that helps us unlock even better ideas than we started with.
Feedback is all about communicating and collaborating. Open lines of communication at every step of a project allow your voice to be heard and your presence felt while also allowing everyone else working on the project to do the same. The true benefit of collaboration comes when we leverage the strength of our roles and expertise in pursuit of our common goal—a well-designed product that meets your goals for the end user.
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