Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #15

Solicit the Right Types of Feedback

Learn the best way to ask for feedback to improve your product design.

Feedback is a vital part of iterating through the product design process. But ask “what do you think?” and will get replies that range from “looks good to me” to “I don’t like it.” Both may be valid, but they lack actionable feedback needed to improve a product or service.

We’ve discovered that asking for feedback properly is the first step in getting helpful input. In this short lesson you’ll learn to prompt answers that put “constructive” in “constructive criticism.”

1. Ask the right people

Who you solicit feedback from is a key to good feedback. The obvious choice is to vet experts in the field — asking designers with responsive design experience about a responsive web design, or JavaScript developers about code. But, depending on what part of the process you’re in, you may even want an outsider view — like a non-designer about design — to help you with the usability of your designs. The key is to ask people in different disciplines, like JavaScript and graphic design, that directly reflect the medium, not just the project.

In most cases, fewer people are better. Having more than a handful of people results in useless feedback from those who have no stake in the project. We’ve found that the optimal project size is around five to seven people.

2. Be specific

Even the most qualified people need more than “what do you think?” to give helpful input.

Ask specific questions. Make sure the feedback you get directly relates to moving the project forward. There’s no need to revisit issues or concerns about work that has already closed ideas down. For example:

“Do you feel this desaturated, rounded form fits with our older demographic?”

“I want people to look at these colors and get excited. But do you think this is too much?”

A question that frames the problem makes it easier to take away feedback that can be acted upon.

Have a clear goal in mind. Decide ahead of time what you sort of answers you want. Not that you should have answers in mind, but “I want to improve the typography” or “I’m not sure if these colors work” are better than “I want an opinion.”

3. Take notes

It may seem obvious, but when asking for feedback in person, write their insight down. The act of taking notes isn’t just for your sake, but to let people know that you value their advice. Notes build trust that you are listening to the feedback for which you asked. Quite often the more seriously they think you’re taking their comments, the more seriously they’ll consider what they say.

Another technique for successful in-person critiques: summarize the feedback points. “To be clear — we'll adjust the kerning, use smaller graphics and swap the orange for the blue.” Stating the takeaways out loud helps confirm you understand the other person while giving them a chance to reconsider their advice.

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.