Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #13

Identifying and Dealing With Four Personality Archetypes on Your Team

Learn about different types of people who deliver different types of feedback on your creative work — as well as how to interpret and use their comments.

photo of people giving feedback

Everyone has a different take on design. A lot of their opinions stem from where they’re coming from, their experience and their preferences. There are many different types of personalities that might be giving you feedback. You’ve got to understand what each of those are and how best to deal with them. Now, it’s hard to classify everyone. But we’ve found most fit into four broad archetypes. We want to share those types and how to work with them.

1. The Role Player

photo of people giving feedback

Role players want your project to succeed. They might be your best advocates. But their positive spins can work turn negatives into positives. Watch for subtle thoughts, ideas and solutions.

Unfortunately, they make it hard to differentiate real feedback from plain ol’ praise. They may not give direct feedback, which is bad news if they’re key decision makers.

Working with role players

  • Engage them one-on-one, outside of meetings or large groups.
  • Ask them straight up: “Gut reaction, thumbs up or down?”
  • Keep including them in the design process to leverage their positive attitude.

2. The Loud Mouth

photo of people giving feedback

These folks are full of thoughts, and they want to let you know it. While their constant stream of ideas may waste time, don’t discount their value to the design process. Balancing their volume of ideas can help bring yours into focus.

Working with loud mouths

  • Acknowledge the feedback this type offers — even if you think you won’t need it.
  • Make them feel heard.
  • Filter his feedback for the rest of the team.
  • Timebox the feedback. Set limits on meetings and conversations up front.

3. The Devil’s Advocate

photo of people giving feedback

These folks are the opposite of role players and challenge every idea on the table. They might be pushing for better answers or to surface other arguments. Or, sad to say, they might just be difficult to work with. On the plus side, they can expose holes in your thinking. On the other hand, they often have the right ideas but the wrong approach to working with teams.

Working with Devil’s advocates

  • Watch for where they expose holes in thinking.
  • Don’t dismiss valuable feedback just because the person might be difficult.
  • Use personal examples.
  • Combat with as much hard evidence as possible.
  • Take their feedback and spin them into something productive. Change “but” into “and”

    “I understand that we can convert more people by creating a better experience for the people using the site, but the engineering team is really understaffed right now.”

    “I understand that we can convert more people by creating a better experience for the people using the site, and the engineering team is really understaffed right now.”

    “That’s a good point, but we don’t have time.”

    “That’s a good point, and we need to address that when we have time.”

4. The Climber

photo of people giving feedback

Their goal is to move up the ranks. They know the rules and what’s expected from those giving feedback. Hopefully you can gain good insight from their views, but know this is a two-way street. They’re closely aligned with corporate goals. Unfortunately their goals may conflict with the project’s because they look beyond the project’s scope.

Working with climbers

  • Identify their goals as early as possible.
  • Remember that they provide a big-picture view you can use to keep the project in context of the company’s goals.

In the end, you have to seek an ally. Face-to-face discussion can provide much better insight, especially if you’re unsure how to proceed. It creates a needed advocate.

Pay attention not only to discussions, but to what each person means. Over time you’ll identify allies. And while we need critical feedback for good product design, the idea is to iterate and move forward.

About the instructor


Ben Gremillion is a Design Writer at ZURB. He started his career in newspaper and magazine design, saw a digital future, and learned HTML in short order. He facilitates the ZURB training courses.