Asynchronous Design Critique: Getting Feedback

“Any comment?” is probably one of the worst ways to ask for feedback. It’s vague and open ended, and it doesn’t provide any indication of what we’re looking for. Getting good feedback starts earlier than we might expect: it starts with the request. 

It might seem counterintuitive to start the process of receiving feedback with a question, but that makes sense if we realize that getting feedback can be thought of as a form of design research. In the same way that we wouldn’t do any research without the right questions to get the insights that we need, the best way to ask for feedback is also to craft sharp questions.

Design critique is not a one-shot process. Sure, any good feedback workflow continues until the project is finished, but this is particularly true for design because design work continues iteration after iteration, from a high level to the finest details. Each level needs its own set of questions.

And finally, as with any good research, we need to review what we got back, get to the core of its insights, and take action. Question, iteration, and review. Let’s look at each of those.

The question

Being open to feedback is essential, but we need to be precise about what we’re looking for. Just saying “Any comment?”, “What do you think?”, or “I’d love to get your opinion” at the end of a presentation—whether it’s in person, over video, or through a written post—is likely to get a number of varied opinions or, even worse, get everyone to follow the direction of the first person who speaks up. And then… we get frustrated because vague questions like those can turn a high-level flows review into people instead commenting on the borders of buttons. Which might be a hearty topic, so it might be hard at that point to redirect the team to the subject that you had wanted to focus on.

But how do we get into this situation? It’s a mix of factors. One is that we don’t usually consider asking as a part of the feedback process. Another is how natural it is to just leave the question implied, expecting the others to be on the same page. Another is that in nonprofessional discussions, there’s often no need to be that precise. In short, we tend to underestimate the importance of the questions, so we don’t work on improving them.

The act of asking good questions guides and focuses the critique. It’s also a form of consent: it makes it clear that you’re open to comments and what kind of comments you’d like to

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