Asking and Receiving High-Quality Feedback: A Guide for Designers

It’s not uncommon to hear designers express frustration over the feedback they receive from stakeholders or clients.

They may say things like, “They asked me to make the logo bigger, as if that’s going to solve all their problems!” or, “They couldn’t articulate why they didn’t like it, so I have no idea how to improve it.” While it can be tempting to commiserate with our colleagues and mock the ignorance of our clients, it’s important to consider whether we could be doing more to facilitate better communication.

As designers, we pride ourselves on our ability to understand and connect with people. Yet, if we find ourselves receiving this kind of feedback on a regular basis, it may be time to reflect on how we’re presenting our work and engaging with our clients. Are we asking the right questions at the right times? Are we truly listening to their concerns and needs? By examining our own behavior and making adjustments as needed, we can work towards more productive and satisfying collaborations with our clients.

Asking and Receiving High-Quality Feedback

What’s Not Working

Design presentations can be incredibly dull affairs, with designers walking the audience through every tiny detail of their design process. They explain every decision they made along the way and why they made it. While this may be interesting for the designer, it’s not necessarily compelling for everyone else in the room.

The result is that people often switch off, losing interest and engagement, as there is no discussion of important business problems or critical decision-making happening. Instead, they are given a step-by-step tour of the designer’s design software, only to be brought back to the present with the question:

“So, what do you think?”

Executives tend to jump at the chance to give their opinions, which is the last thing designers want to hear. They get bombarded with feedback that’s irrelevant, such as “That looks too big” or “This color doesn’t work.” These are opinions, which aren’t helpful in the design process.

So, how can designers break out of this cycle and get better feedback?

Reframing the Request for Feedback

Rather than presenting a long-winded chronology of design iterations, start by framing the problem at hand. This means explaining what’s wrong with the current design and how the new design solves that problem. After all, design is about problem-solving, not just aesthetics.

If you must show some of the dead ends you went through, make sure to explain them in the context of the problem you’re trying to solve. Avoid making vague statements like “the typeface didn’t work” or “the color scheme needed improvement” as these are likely to invite subjective opinions.

When presenting the final design, engage the stakeholders on a strategic level and explain how the new design solves the problem. Even better, explain how you plan to test and prove that the new design is effective.

For example: “We’re planning to push this release out next week and will gather some data by the end of the month to show how much this design solves the problem at hand.”

By presenting a clear problem and solution, you can avoid vague feedback and ensure that everyone is aligned on the goals of the project.

Requesting Feedback? Be Clear on What You Want

When seeking feedback, it’s important to be specific about what type of feedback you’re looking for. Do you need input on the overall concept, or are you looking for comments on specific details such as typography or color?

If there are any potential issues or areas of concern with the design, it’s best to address them upfront. Rather than waiting for someone to point out a problem, let stakeholders know about any potential issues in advance. This can save time and help ensure everyone is on the same page.

Remember, not all feedback requires action. Sometimes, it’s simply helpful to hear different perspectives and insights. Acknowledge the feedback, but let people know if and how it will be incorporated into the final product.

If you’re uncertain about the intent or relevance of feedback, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. And if someone offers unsolicited feedback, be gracious in receiving it, but make it clear what feedback is needed.

By being clear and specific about the feedback you’re seeking, you can help ensure that the feedback you receive is relevant, actionable, and ultimately leads to a better end product.

Asking and Receiving High-Quality Feedback

Ask for Constructive Feedback Instead of Seeking Validation

Instead of seeking external validation, designers should ask for real feedback to grow and improve. While designers may be tempted to ask for feedback in the hopes of receiving praise, it’s important to be clear about the purpose of the presentation. If feedback is not necessary at this stage, it’s okay to state so upfront.

Asking for feedback can be an opportunity for growth and improvement, especially for more senior designers who understand the value of constructive criticism. Rather than defending their work, designers should be open to feedback and seek to understand it better by asking for more information.

Instead of getting defensive or dismissive, a better response to feedback would be to say:

“Thank you for your feedback. Can you please elaborate on what you mean?”

This approach shows that the designer values the feedback and is willing to learn from it, which can ultimately lead to better designs.

Learn from Mistakes, But Let People Make Them to Truly Understand

Expert advice can warn people about potential issues with their ideas, but sometimes it takes experiencing failure firsthand to truly learn. It’s important to be present when someone finally understands the mistake, to show them that listening to advice can prevent future pain. Usability testing is an effective tool for this learning process.

Designers are skilled at predicting potential problems, but often fail to follow up after issuing a warning. The person responsible for the outcome may not witness the issue, leading to them undervaluing the designer’s advice. Frustration can arise when stakeholders don’t listen, leading to anger and decreased likelihood of future cooperation.

As a startup advisor, pointing out potential pitfalls is necessary, but it’s also important to allow for mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Display Your Work Frequently and At an Early Stage

Many designers struggle with showing incomplete work and become defensive when asked for changes. It’s like reaching the end of a marathon, only to find out you have to run another ten miles. It can be demotivating and tiring, leaving you unsure if you have the energy to keep going.

Designers’ tendency to avoid criticism is usually due to their psychology and self-esteem. Criticism often feels like a personal attack instead of a critique of their work, which leads to hiding away until they believe their work is perfect. However, this can backfire when executives give negative feedback, crushing the designer’s confidence.

An effortless solution is at hand. Don’t wait for perfection; feel at ease with presenting unfinished work – imperfect initial versions that will invite critiques.

By sharing your work early and often, you can avoid the shock of receiving feedback and maintain the energy to make necessary changes. Successful designers bring executives along with them throughout the design process and avoid the unnecessary pressure of a “big reveal” moment.


Feedback is a valuable tool for designers as it helps in creating better products that are more likely to be accepted by clients, partners, and peers. To receive actionable feedback, designers should practice showcasing their work early on, learn to effectively present their work’s business case, and improve their ability to ask relevant questions and guide the feedback they receive.

Top-notch designers are aware of this fact. While average designers hope that their work is correct, exceptional designers aim to be proven wrong. Why? Because it is the most efficient way to acquire knowledge and improve their skills.

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