Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #22

Win Over Clients in a Design Critique

Learn to give constructive criticism to help others — and yourself.

1. State Goals Up Front

We’ve found that explaining two goals from the start keeps meetings on point. First, what you want to get out of a meeting. Second, what kind of feedback you want to get.

“We’re here to talk about this web page design. I need to know if the hero element is big enough — or too big.”

To keep from delving into details that don’t matter, establish a time limit time right from the start: “We have 20 minutes, and then we have to move on.”

2. Self Confidence Leads to Better Reactions

Not that we try to slant opinions by “selling” the presentation, but being prepared to explain key points encourages people to take your work seriously. For example, having reasons behind your decisions, even if other people eventually persuade you otherwise, gives your audience confidence in what you’ve created, even if they disagree with it.

Another technique: Not everyone explains themselves well. To make sure you understand what others mean, restate their comments.

Feedback: “I think it needs to be more red and orange.”
Your response: “OK. It needs to be warmer.

If you’re on the right track, your audience will confirm your statement. If not, you’ll know straight away.

3. Read the Room

There are comments, and there’s meaning. The two don’t always coincide. For example, some people may offer feedback while others are asking for validation. People who ask “do you agree?” may need extra questioning before you learn their real opinions.

Still other people may seem overly negative — “I don’t think that will work at all” — may have issues outside of the project at hand. They may have a valid point, but will take more work on your part to back up what they mean. The best way to deal with this is to ask “why” five times. Doing so will reveal underlying problems — the reasons behind the criticism.

4. You Don’t Know Everything — But You Are the Expert

The difference between being a pushover and being defensive is fuzzy at best. On the one hand, you are the expert in the room: the design expert, expert on the project, and expert of the work you’re presenting.

But none of us is infallible. Feedback is about seeking other ways to improve your work — ways you may not have considered. The danger in agreeing to every opinion is surrendering control of the meeting and your work.

And when you leave a feedback meeting with great feedback, your design will improve.

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.