I never learned how to handle feedback in school because we were mostly just learning basic design principles and how to use the applications. Everything I’ve learned about what to do with feedback or criticism was learned on the job. None of my classmates ever brought up the weird color combinations or transitions I’d use, so I just kept at it. Now I’m a comfortable, well-adjusted (sort of) adult who can take the harshest of words and turn them into something usable. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

I think [feedback is] good to have early on in your design education, because you learn to disassociate yourself from the work. — Bethany Heck via Overtime

Take it with a grain of salt.

Some people give harsh feedback because they want to feel superior and/or witty somehow. Some do it because they genuinely want to help and just don’t realize how harsh they are being. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference, so always accept the feedback graciously, but take it with a grain of salt. You know what the requirements were, you did the research, and you put the wireframes together. You stayed up late finishing it up for testing or handoff the next day.

A blue and grey color scheme? Ground breaking.

That said, don’t dismiss the feedback of others. Ask thoughtful questions about their feedback so you can better understand where they’re coming from and what they think should happen. Take that input and apply it to your work (if it makes sense). Who knows? It may just be the solution you were looking for.

Understand that it’s not personal.

It can be hard to hear criticism of something you’ve been working on for weeks (or even a day). You think it’s a great execution of the idea and are eager to show your team that progress. Then they start asking questions, picking it apart, telling you that the layout is confusing. Generally people aren’t out to hurt your feelings; they just want to voice their thoughts on the matter. The intent is rarely to tear you down, but rather to give you outside input to help you grow and improve and make the project better.

I know you're not questioning my perfect execution.
I know you’re not questioning my perfect execution.
[In art school], I would go into class feeling proud of my work and I would leave completely defeated from critiques. However, I always got great feedback to make my work better. My peers would suggest things I had never thought of to elevate my work to the next level. I learned to not take feedback personally, and if the original concept didn’t work, I could quickly pivot or start over with a new concept. In my professional career, I love getting honest feedback – it only helps make my work better. — Monica Chow

The quicker you can emotionally distance yourself from your work, the better you’ll be able to move forward and make even better work. When you get too attached to your work, you tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and what the actual goals are. It’s okay to care about the work you do (and you should!) but understand that sometimes you have to let stuff go and move on. It’s for the best.

Use this as a learning opportunity.

Every piece of feedback is an opportunity to learn something and get better. Many people have a tendency to see “mistakes” or negative feedback as questioning their skills or intelligence. By getting defensive, you’re basically just saying that you don’t want to improve and don’t care if your solution isn’t the best.

I know all, you know nothing.
You know nothing.

I had a love/hate relationship with drawing classes and found them to be the most time consuming yet also the most therapeutic and rewarding. My last critique was for an advanced figure drawing class in which we could use any medium to portray ourselves. I spent hours using ink (my medium of choice) to draw myself sitting in a chair half naked. What I thought was quite elegant someone else said was “really unfinished and executed poorly.” I had spent 12 hours painting a stranger because in actuality the portrait reflected nothing of me or what I wanted to say with it. Similar to solving a design problem, I hadn’t really solved the problem of portraying “me” and it was definitely called out. I’ll chalk it up to being burnt out at the end of the semester, but, either way, it made me much more aware that you have to dig a lot deeper to produce great work. — Kim Sullivan

If you listen and ask questions about feedback to better understand what they’re saying, you might just find a better idea in there or even something to improve your whole approach with. Some of my best work has come out of feedback that, at first glance, felt silly and impractical. But asking questions helped me understand the thinking behind it and, as it turned out, made the end result so much better and more usable.

Not everyone knows how to handle feedback.

So you’re at a design review with your team and they aren’t having any of your feedback. Try not to get frustrated — it could be any number of things. They don’t know how to handle negative feedback, they’ve grown too attached to the project, or whatever.

Nope, not having it.
Nope, not having it.

Think about how you’re phrasing your feedback. Is it too harsh? Negative? Not really helpful? Meet them where they are, and help them feel more comfortable with receiving feedback from others.

When I started working in the real world, I quickly realized that not everyone is accustomed to straightforward critique. It was in the workplace that I had to learn to meet people where they are in their ability to accept feedback. Giving honest feedback without tearing down morale is a hard balance. — Monica Chow

Try reframing your feedback as an open-ended question: “How did you arrive at that solution?” By asking questions, you’re giving them room to explain how they got there rather than putting them in a place to defend their choices. Don’t forget your feedback may be something they already considered or even tried and then determined it wouldn’t work. So be ready to let your feedback go and move on to another idea.

A great place to start any critique or conversation is to ask the designer how — not why — they did something. Asking why immediately puts them on the defensive, while asking how invites exploration of the concept’s origin without the need for justification. — Jason Cranford Teague via Smashing Magazine

What are your tips or experiences with handling feedback or criticism on your work? Tell us in the comments!

Further Reading

How to take design feedback graciously.

Jamie Aucoin

Designer @ Spiceworks

Category: Life Lesson

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