Learn how to deal with negative feedback to become a better designer

It could be the best work you’ve ever created, but when you show it to your team or client, they don’t quite have the same opinion. That’s the added challenge to design work. Even in a room full of veteran designers, context, experience, and opinions will differ because design is subjective. Before your career is over, no doubt you’ll have a moment where you look at a pile of feedback and think, “I should have gone into accounting, where there’s only one answer.”

But feedback, especially when given in response to creative work, is a chance to grow. If all you ever hear is how great you are, there’s no impetus to push yourself, strengthen skills, or add new ones.

So the next time you click open a barrage of feedback, keep the above in mind as you follow these tips:

Don’t take negative feedback personally

While there are some instances when someone will take out a bad day on you (we’ll talk more about that later), keep in mind the feedback you get on your work is just that: it’s about your work, not you as a human being. If your client says, “The buy button is too far down on the page,” that in no way translates to, “Sean, you’re an incompetent designer who doesn’t have a clue.”

If you get worked up, step away for a minute, take a breath, or go for a slow stroll around the block. Then come back, and revisit the objectives of the project to get yourself back into the mind frame of the work.

Dissect the feedback objectively

Once you’re in a headspace where you can digest the notes without getting too fired up, separate the useful critiques from anything that might be the result of a bad day, or loaded personal opinions. Take a look at each piece of feedback under the specific, actionable, objective criteria:

  • Specific: The feedback clearly addresses an issue.
    • Specific – The illustrations feel too young for our retired-age audience.
    • Vague – I just don’t like it.
  • Actionable: Based on the thought or information in the feedback, you could make changes right now.
    • Actionable – The logo is lost in the similarly colored background.
    • Abstract – I’m not sure this logo is doing what it needs to do.
  • Objective: The feedback speaks purely to the work and ladders back to the project’s goals.
    • Objective – On this page, we want people to purchase, so let’s put that button at the top, and enlarge it a bit.
    • Biased/Attacking – I told you this is the sales page, and I don’t even know what you did here.

If points of feedback are missing any of the above criteria, you need to dig in for more clarification.

Find the opportunities

Now that you’ve dissected the feedback, it’s time to chart a course of action. Line by line, make notes on how you’ll address each piece. Doing this gives you a checklist of clear next steps, and a place to reference once it’s time to respond to the person who provided the feedback.

And remember, feedback is an opportunity to grow and make yourself and the work even better. Keep this top of mind as you’re making notes on necessary changes. In the example above, if the client wants to make sure the buy button is the most effective it can be, do more research to determine how you can help there. Have studies shown placement is the biggest factor? Color of the button? Size? The copy that appears on the button? Make changes according to what you’ve found, and be sure to share the information with your client or team.

Determining how you respond to feedback is your moment to shine. Sure, you can go down the list and quickly check off the requested changes just to move on with it, but then you’ve missed the value of the feedback altogether.

Respond politely and collaboratively

Start with a thank you. Seriously. Even if the critique was loaded with opinions and pissed you off, thank the person for taking the time to look over the work, and reiterate your shared intention to make the design the best it can be.

If you’re asking for clarification or pushing back on points, turn the tables on yourself and make sure everything you put down fits the specific, actionable, objective criteria. Don’t use words like “but” or “except,” or any other words or phrases that could feel defensive or loaded.

Also, make sure the person who gave feedback has all the information and understands the purpose of the work. If the objectives in the brief focused on increasing sales via a website design, but your client insists on organizing the navigation to focus on blog content, refer to the brief as an objective starting point for determining why you’re not seeing eye to eye.

If you’re simply responding to let the person know you addressed their feedback, use the checklist you created when you charted your course of action to take them through each point. If they took the time to offer the critique, you should extend that same courtesy with a reply. Using the example of the logo getting lost in the similarly colored background, instead of writing back that you made changes offer details like, “Great point. I played around with the background while staying within the brand’s approved color palette and discovered moving to a light blue background makes the logo pop.”

Anytime you receive feedback, even outside of your professional endeavors, use it to your advantage and move forward with a purpose. If you’re working with a challenging personality, take notes on communication styles that were effective so that you can rely on them again in a future situation. If you’re getting the same notes on a particular design choice, find continuing education classes that can help you grow in that area specifically.

Perfection doesn’t exist (remember that whole thing about how design is subjective?). The best designers simply focus on getting better every time. And the easiest way to do that is through feedback.

Use Wake to invite key team members to offer valuable feedback in context. Think of Wake as a safe space where everyone can collaborate for the greater good of the final design.