“How about this?”

Visualizing design feedback to encourage collaboration

This is something I’m doing more of, figured I’d share.

As a design manager, I’ve always found it difficult to know exactly when to grab the marker from someone when offering feedback. There is the natural urge to just offer up a solution, or be so prescriptive that I might as well have designed the thing myself. Those aren’t great approaches and don’t do much to help a designer grow.

The other end of the spectrum is just as bad, I think. Offering verbal feedback and expecting their design to match what I’m seeing in my head. It works sometimes if the solution is simple enough. But often it isn’t and the recipient of this feedback can feel like I’m expecting them to read my mind. It’s silly and annoying. We are designers. We live by show-don’t-tell. So why are we so shy to show what we mean?

One small change has helped me get past this — I visualize what I think would work but instead of saying this is what it should be, I propose it as a potential solution, a how-about-this? It changes how the solution is perceived, both by me and the person receiving it. It now becomes a prompt for discussion, for debate. The process of arriving at an outcome becomes a collaboration, not an instruction.

[Update] A comment from Vaibhav Gupta made me realize there are a few things worth calling out here:

  1. This kind of visual feedback only makes sense in cases where verbal feedback wouldn’t suffice.
  2. The feedback should (ideally) build on what’s already been proposed; you’re not rejecting it outright but evolving it toward a better solution.
  3. It is given in the spirit of collaboration, that you’re all working together to make something better. I’ve found that a team working like this usually comes up with something that none of them could’ve done individually.

This all seems very obvious, and I’m sure a lot of you practice this, too. But I’ve seen myself forget to do this. And in these days of remote working and the absence of whiteboards, I think we need this even more.

P. S. I wrote this post on the mobile app. First time doing it and it is pretty good.

Father, husband, vegan, Design Director at Medium. Trying to do as much with as little as possible.