Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #67

How to Give Meaningful Feedback

Learn to give specific, meaningful advice when asked for help

Feedback is an important part of progressive design. Challenging ideas and discovering false assumptions helps us build better products. But giving feedback is just as important as asking. 

Sometimes — well, oftentimes — people seeking feedback will ask "what do you think?" We discourage such questions because they lead to vague answers. When we do get good questions, giving good replies is just as important. Here's how to help your team with effective feedback.

Photo of a whiteboard covered with notes

Dissecting bad feedback

Here's a typical not-whadda-think request for feedback:

"I want to earn customers' trust with a contemporary redesign. Does this feel modern to you?"

That's solid. The designer gives us a specific goal and a narrow question. Then we follow up with:

"It's not very modern. I don't think that look will fly with customers. You need to do something else."

C'mon, this comment has no merit. Anyone who asks a great question deserves better than that. Let's find out why.

  • "It's not right" and "it looks great!" are emotional, not critical.
  • If they're commenting on the look, then "not very modern" is too subjective to be useful. This person may think it's a little dated, but one person is not a survey.
  • The comment gives advice — but "do something else" is wishy-washy.
  • Whether or not customers will like something is an unfounded gut reaction.

Better feedback

So let's try again.

The request:

"I want to earn customers' trust with a contemporary redesign. Does this feel modern to you?"

More feedback:

"When I think 'modern,' I think of this. Straight lines are also in, like on these sites. It's not there yet, but this is a step up over from the old version. What are the biggest headaches you've had in earning customers' trust?"

Why this is better:

  • It continues the conversation with a question that probes the root of the problem.
  • The answer comes with samples that help keep everyone in sync.
  • It frames the answer in context of the feedback-giver's experience. "When I think of … "
  • Includes a positive statement that acknowledges the designer's effort.

Other points

There's plenty more we can do to help people improve their work.

  • Make sure the other person takes notes, or offer your feedback in written form. To that end we like Notable, a tool we invented for that very purpose — but even pens, sharpies and paper will do the trick.
  • Validate yourself by citing your sources. Back up your statements with facts. You'd be surprised how well people react to articles, numbers and references.
  • Find hard numbers or case studies. Intuition is part of design but "because I think so" isn't good feedback.
  • Don't answer vague questions. If someone asks "what do you think?" then counter with "what are you going for, and what kind of feedback do you want at this point?"
  • Show examples in context of the stuff on which you're giving feedback. Like citing your sources, finding real-world examples can be very persuasive.

In the end, it's all about giving helpful advice — the ideas that help people design for people.

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.