Not too long ago I attended a camp for owners of design companies. One theme kept emerging throughout the camp — owners found that their designers continually expressed that they didn't know how they were doing within their companies. Most companies struggle to figure out how they can provide clear feedback or give recognition. And it can be tough when designers work in an ever-changing environment.
We're constantly trying to better understand the work environment of designers. We want to understand what's important to them, either now or down the road. We're doing this not only for us, but to help other companies get a better grasp of what it takes to hire and keep design talent. That prompted us to start our own Job Board to help bridge that gap. We're conducting a monthly survey called Designer Insights, to ask designers directly what they really want in a job and what they need to really be effective in their work.
Our most recent survey asked 235 designers what were the top five feedback methods that helped them understand most — "how am I doing at my company?" Here's what we found:
|Direct client feedback on your design work|
|Design team critiques|
|Sideline conversations about your work|
|Private bonuses for good work or positive contributions to a company|
|One-on-one design critiques with other designers|
|Daily project feedback from your boss, lead or mentor|
|Yearly review with a manager or lead|
|Quarterly review with a manager or lead|
|Customer feedback through customer service|
From the results, it's clear that designers want continuous and direct feedback on their work. Corporate feedback channels, such as formal reviews and company recognition, were low on the list. Which goes to show that designers aren't always thinking about how their work fits into the larger business goals. Continuous feedback on the business goals can help them understand that.
Let's take a closer look at the top four feedback methods that designers preferred.
1. Direct Client Feedback on Your Design Work
Getting direct client feedback empowers designers, so it's no wonder it tops the list. There's no middleman between a designer and the client. Designers can interpret the feedback on their own without it being filter first through a project manager, who may not be design literate. Now the designer owns more of the problem and has the ability to affect change rather than be an implementor. And there's an even greater chance of success on a project, as one person surveyed put it:
Success comes from feedback from my project managers delivering work that's on time/budget has lead to raises. Client feedback is key as well, needs to work well on their side otherwise sites will be late/over budget.
Reduce the need or eliminate project managers and allow designers to represent their work. We don't have project managers and our designers are coached to explain their work to clients. We also identify key stakeholders early on and make sure that we get their feedback at least once a week during a project's lifetime. The upside to this approach is that it builds a relationship with our customers, creating less of an us (designers) vs. them (the client) mentality.
2. Design Team Critiques
It's a fact: designers like getting feedback from their peers. Sometimes it can be frustrating getting feedback from folks who may not understand the nuances of design. Let's be frank — most managers lack design literacy even if they grok the business problems. That's why designers like to hear if they've gone off the rails from their peers who are working in the trenches alongside them.
Provide more opportunity for multiple designers in a group to give feedback to one another. We haven't done this as much, but we have created a Design Team. We're working to bring more critiques into our work, on a per-project or per-person basis.
3. Sideline Conversations About Your Work
Designers don't like to get trapped in "design-by-committee," which can paralyze design work. Sideline conversations propel a designer's work instead of bringing it to a grinding halt. Quick conversations, what we like to call scrums around ZURB, can stave off prolonged meetings where every little minuscule design decision is argued — kind of like Google's infamous 41 shades of blue argument — and no work gets done.
Create a culture and environment that prompts sideline conversations. We've done these by having an open office floor so people aren't siloed and they can easily share ideas with one another. There are also side rooms to allow for quick scrums. Our values encourage ongoing conversations between teams so designers get feedback from others who aren't solely designers. We also believe in coaching each other to do better work.
4. One-on-One Design Critiques With Other Designers
OK, critiques aren't really number four on the list — bonuses are. And sure, who doesn't like a good private bonus? But bonuses only affirm that you're doing good work. They don't really tell you specifically how you can improve your work. As one designer put it:
Private bonuses [are] pretty interesting one — it means that the employer is putting money where their mouth is with the feedback.
One-on-one design critiques, like sideline conversations, with a fellow designer can help clarify thinking and refine ideas. Overall, it can help improve design mastery, which a designer might not necessarily get from feedback from those who aren't exactly design literate. While there's a time and place for feedback from, say a marketer, those folks may only be able to articulate what they don't like but not exactly why it doesn't work from a design perspective. Nor would they be able to offer guidance on where to go next.
Put a design lead and designer on the same project. This is what we've formalized in our Studio process. The lead keeps the work honest and on track through one-on-one critiques and coaching.
Design Feedback is Crucial, But So is Understanding the Business Goals
There was an interesting divide between survey results of other designers and ZURBians. Of those surveyed here at ZURB, the number one feedback mechanism they preferred was quarterly company reviews, which allows designers here understand their place in the overall business.
Feedback is crucial to a designer's ability to improve their craft. It has to be continuous and come from peers and those who are impacted directly by a designer's work. The downside, however, is that a designer might miss the bigger picture. Understanding the business goals and your place in it is crucial to understanding the problems you're solving.
Every month, we're asking designers specific questions to further understand what helps them excel at their jobs, data that hiring managers can use to attract talent. Our newest survey hopes to understand what tools designers deem necessary for them to get their work done.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998