Joshua Krohn

Best Practices: Receiving Feedback

As a designer–whether it’s web design, brand identity, packaging, illustration, or the myriad other disciplines–our work is always under review. And getting feedback on our work is part of the process that makes us better. More important to our growth than getting feedback is how we react when receiving feedback. Receiving and responding to critique with grace is one of the most valuable soft skills a designer has.

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Designers are unique individuals, seeing things not as they are but how they could be. When we leave the office for the day, we don’t stop designing. We are always “on,” with nearly everything we come across ripe for improvement (in our eyes, at least). And that’s the fascinating thing about design: it’s subjective and open to opinion. Who’s to say that one design solution is better than another? Can both be right? (The answer is yes.) Of course, there are occasional lapses in design judgment but, for the most part, the way any of us approach design (designers and non-designers alike) is based on our personal tastes and opinions.

LESS EGO, MORE LISTENING
Designers aren’t the only ones with opinions relative to design. For nearly every project we work on we seek approval from people who don’t know the difference between a font and a typeface or a pixel and a point. (Pro tip: they probably don’t care about those things anyway.) These people are the executives, the business owners, the engineers, the developers–the client.

A fantastic opportunity lies in educating clients about what makes good design. But just because clients weren’t trained in design doesn’t make their feedback any less valuable. Some of the most pertinent feedback I’ve received has come from non-designers. Shelve any ego and listen attentively.

YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORK
It’s hard to separate ourselves from the work that’s being critiqued. But critique comes with the territory. Keep in mind that a client’s feedback is not a personal attack on you.

“If you’re going to succeed in the design industry, you have to learn to separate yourself from your work.”

To prepare yourself for client feedback, remember that the majority of what you’ll hear or read will be related to what’s not working versus what is. This is important to remember. The client has likely reviewed your work and already knows what they like. They may expand on that but what they’re more likely to convey is what they don’t like. This is their way of trying to positively influence the outcome. And we all want that.

BE CONFIDENT, YET HUMBLE
One of my favorite design quotations comes from John Lilly: “Design like you’re right. Listen like you’re wrong.” I love this! When you’re designing something, have confidence in what you’re designing. Bring that confidence with you when presenting your work to clients. You’re the expert (or at least working towards being one).

But be careful not to let that confidence morph into arrogance or stubbornness. Approach their critique with humility and be open to changing your design in light of their feedback. This isn’t to say clients are always right. Disagreements abound in feedback sessions. But disagree with tact and respect. Again, this is an opportunity to educate clients.

Clients aren’t mind readers. If you don’t speak up and expand on the choices you made, then who will? Communicate your reasoning and explain your ideas. It’s even better if it’s backed up by data! But don’t sit idly by, sheepishly nodding along to every piece of feedback, even feedback that you disagree with. Remember, we're the expert and we’re supposed to exude confidence.

BE BETTER
Being great at receiving feedback is a tough skill to master. But the more you receive it, the better you’ll get at it. Over time, you’ll learn that feedback is meant solely as an improvement mechanism. And that’s all we want as designers: to improve ourselves and do better work.


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