How to Give Great Feedback
Working in the creative field for the past 12 years has taught me one thing: how critical feedback is in shaping your career. The ability to give and receive feedback is crucial to growing as a designer.
Both receiving and giving feedback requires a certain skill-set, and I'll share thoughts on how to receive feedback in another post. This one will focus on giving feedback, and being a great partner. I learned the value and significance of how delivering feedback to peers and reports can either hinder or foster talent, build rapport, and achieve product goals. Just like anything in life, there are actually do’s and don’ts, and an art behind delivering feedback on creative work.
I've found in my career that a lot of people mistake criticism for critique. It is surprising how many people climb the ladder without refining the basics of critiquing. There is a specific and detrimental difference between the two, so let's first focus on what great critique and feedback isn't.
Great feedback isn't disingenuous. There's a "sandwich" technique taught in schools and corporate environments that suggests giving a compliment before providing a critique and then following with another positive response. It really depends on the person you're critiquing and how they respond to feedback if this strategy works. And if you use it, the compliment should definitely be genuine. Never share an insincere “nice” feedback for the sake of saying something negative later.
Great feedback isn't personal. Unless you have a great relationship with the recipient, you should avoid comparing them to other people on the team in a negative way. Don't imply that you or someone else on the team could execute the goal better, or accomplish the task more efficiently. Approaches like this will likely demotivate the receiver. Keep it professional, not personal.
Now let's jump into what great feedback is! In my experience:
Great feedback is timely. Review cycles that only give feedback at the end of the year (or other long stretches of time) defeat the purpose of critiquing. In grad school we were instructed to post mortem after the completion of each project. If we didn't sync with our team members to uncover what worked and what didn't work, ineffectual behaviors would have remained unchecked throughout the academic year. It also limits your opportunity for growth to once a year. If your team works in an "annual review" system I recommend being proactive and following up with your peers post project yourself to see how you can continue growing and improving.
Great feedback is specific. It may feel nit picky to point out details, but I and my cohorts have found that it yields the impression that you're engaged in what was being presented and that you're invested because you've looked beyond the surface to give feedback that's not generic. Giving generic feedback can also backfire and make it difficult to trust future commentary because it can leave the recipient with the impression that you're being dismissive (or just being negative for the sake of it).
Great feedback is actionable. If you internalize one point in this article, let it be this. I've found that no matter if critique came following a compliment, no matter the tone that was taken in the delivery, the one crucial aspect is that the feedback be actionable. The recipient to your feedback should walk away from the conversation knowing specifically what to do next. That doesn't mean give an answer or doing the job for the recipient. Too many managers are intentionally vague because they don't want to "hand hold" or take away the problem solving. Find the balance between solving the problem yourself and guiding and giving direction.
Here's an example scenario. Let's say there is a UI issue to make an icon look tappable to a user. It’s best not to give the feedback, "I don't like the solve you've presented here." It's vague, negative, and not meaningful. This is criticism, not critique and will not help you grow your talent. Also don't approach it by saying, "You should try adding a drop shadow or a stroke to make this icon look more tappable." You've given some of the problem solving away and again will not help you grow your talent. Frame your response through the lens of what you want the solution to be. You could say "This icon is supposed to act as a toggle, but I'm unsure if it looks tappable to a user. Could you do more iterations around the visual design of it to ensure users know they should tap to toggle." This last approach is specific and actionable. The receiver would know that more visual exploration is needed around the toggle without actually being given a solution to the problem. It empowers them to do their own exploration and research and to pull from their own inspiration to create the UI element. This is how to give feedback that enables growth. And to close, here's a great comic to help you remember: