The importance of design reviews: giving criticism and getting feedback

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If you're a designer, there's always room for you to improve. It doesn't matter if you work at an agency, if you work for yourself, or if you are somewhere in between; developing your skills and taste as a designer is important to maintain your value. Always be growing!

Giving and getting feedback can be awkward or painful. I've seen many people downright avoid critiques. But peer review is a key part of design, and done right, it's an invaluable step.

One of the first things you learn in design school is learning how to take criticism on your work. This is a soft skill that isn't necessarily picked up when you're a self-taught designer. Every designer, self-taught or formally trained, knows how important it is to get reviewed by other designers. By taking valuable feedback with an open mind, you are expanding your horizons and learning from others. 

In design school, the rigorous exercise of having every pencil stroke you make paraded in front of a class of 10's of similarly-imprisoned peers can really set the tone for how you are able to take reviews now, later, and forever. Enjoyment aside, routine reviews will keep you expecting feedback.

The importance of design reviews: giving criticism and getting feedback | UI UX Design, Web Design, Graphic Design

There are two parts of the reviewing process: being reviewed, and reviewing others. Both can be uncomfortable, but the act is key in growing as a designer.

Being Reviewed Step 1: Disconnect Yourself from Your Work

The first step in a good design critique as a designer or an artist is being able to disconnect yourself from your work.

If you're working on something for a client, you're often going to be getting comments directly from the end-user. This can be a frustrating process when the client isn't design-focused, but keep in mind that the client knows his audience best. The client's knowledge combined with your design savvy will help you come up with the best solution possible. Remember that you're working together to create a useable end product.

On the other hand, if you're working on a personal project, it can be significantly more difficult to remove yourself from your work. It's easy to get attached to your passion projects. Just try to remember: constructive feedback you get from someone is going to help you improve your work. Your work, while made by you, is not you.

There's plenty of work I make where it is more cohesive in my head, but by the time I execute it doesn't look the way I intended. There's always room for improvement. So secondly →

Being Reviewed Step 2: Be Comfortable and Open-Minded...

... is easier said than done. Your ability to take feedback may stem from how you were raised (sorry to get all psychological up in here).

First, being able to share your work comes from expecting an atmosphere of trust and comfort. Then, being able to trust that you're getting real feedback is the other important part. Allow me to take a step back to my childhood.

When I was growing up, I drew all the time. Most of it was crap, but what else can you expect from a little kid? I got the obligatory "Good job, sweetie" from my mom. But one day in my fourth year of life, I drew this pretty awesome picture of my stuffed rabbit and the reaction was much different. There were moments of shock followed by praise. Then my mom launched into The Speech: "You do good work all of the time. But occasionally you really apply yourself and the results are spectacular."

From then on, my mom set the bar for critiquing my work. I knew what it would take to get a platinum-level review from her, and I knew the difference between the "good job" and the "wow" reactions. I could trust my mom to give me honest praise. I came to know her "wow" speech pretty well throughout my life, whenever I deserved it (which wasn't often; I was a lazy kid) or whenever she was reminiscing on my achievements, as moms tend to do.

Overall, a good experience of having your work reviewed comes from an atmosphere of comfort in your reviewer, but the ability to trust that they're giving you appropriate positive or negative criticism is just as important.

Being Reviewed Step 3: Take It with a Grain of Salt

Even though you've disconnected yourself from your work and are now comfortable hearing feedback, remember that it is still your project. Stand your ground when needed. Feel free to (gently) push back on someone if you disagree. Just make sure you have a real reason.

TL;DR? Keep the entire experience objective. The goal is to have the best design possible for the project at hand. Find people you trust to give you valuable feedback.

On Reviewing: Saying "Good Job" is a Disservice to Designers

Reviewing goes both ways. If you expect to get real feedback from your classmates, peers, or coworkers, you have to dish it out like you see it.

If you like someone's work, don't just say "good job". If you like the piece, tell him why, and be specific.

Definitely don't say "good job" if you don't like it. It's the worst thing you can do for a fellow designer. It creates a fake environment and doesn't allow for growth.

On Reviewing: Keep it Real

  • Be as specific as possible. For example, saying "I don't like the colors" is different than saying "These two colors are vibrating against each other and it's causing a distraction."
  • Sandwich only if you have something positive to say, or if you know the reviewee needs to have sandwiched feedback.
  • Give suggestions if you have them. Just don't be offended if the designer doesn't take them; after all, it's her project!
  • Make sure you're not giving unsolicited criticism. Sometimes it just helps to ask quickly before you give someone feedback. "Are you looking for feedback?"

Keeping honest streams of communication open throughout the design community is important. Give real feedback, get real feedback. Be open to change and you'll be open to improvement in your career.

What do you struggle with in terms of feedback?

Cover photo by William Iven