Principles of Design Feedback

It is a natural instinct to be wary of getting feedback on your designs. It’s not normal to let someone tear your work apart on purpose, it is something you would associate with a jealous competitor wanting to ridicule you.

It took me a few years before I had the confidence of openly sending designs out for feedback, I took everything personally. If someone picked up the smallest change it was clearly the end of the world for me and I’d argue back accordingly stating they didn’t know enough about me or the design to have an opinion.

Experience and feedback from others in the community helped me understand that feedback was a good thing. The first time that I thought about feedback the right way was when I read ‘Playing with Fire – Gordon Ramsay’, Gordon makes sure that all of his restaurants sit down on a weekly basis to go through letters received in the post, the majority of these letters are feedback, some good and some bad. Gordon explains in the book that the only way a restaurant can get better is to receive feedback, listen to it and learn from it.

As designers we generally think that the client is not always right, I’m certainly not going to get in to that discussion now as client feedback has 90% to do with design being subjective and that all clients are unpredictable. <– That discussion is for another time.

Let’s think about the designer/designer relationship for a moment. There is nothing better than designers talking to each other, well maybe there is but not when it comes to our work. There is so much that can be learned from discussion around design, whether it be about a design process or just general feedback on something you’ve done. It is easier to explain to a designer why you’ve done something in a certain way, and it is much easier for them to provide feedback when they have a background knowledge of design. We do some things for a reason, and this is something that most clients would never understand hence the reason why it is best to get design feedback before a design presentation.

Take Feedback, even when not asked for.

No designer can do their work without feedback. There are hundreds if not thousands of designers who are happy and willing to give you a helping hand towards creating a better design. They do it, not to hurt your feelings but to aid you in becoming better. Sometimes we act without being asked, this isn’t to have the first bite but more because we genuinely want to give a helping hand. There are many places to get feedback on your designs and why wouldn’t you accept it wherever it might come from?

You should always take feedback. There, I’ve said it. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I was completely different as I hated getting feedback on my designs. Generally you don’t ask for feedback in an open manner as it could compromise your overall design. Sometimes we’re engaged in to a non-disclosure agreement where we cannot publicly show our work. When we do have the chance, we should always take feedback and accept it as the norm. It can only make us better!

Where to get feedback – Please Critique Me is a venture by Tony Chester and the rest of the guys at On Wired. On Wired were receiving a lot of requests via Twitter to critique work, so they set up a website where designers could submit work to be critiqued. Since the time that the website was setup they’ve covered a lot of ground and had some awesome designers critiquing work. Submitting your design to please critique me enables you to get feedback from one of the critics. This is quite a closed feedback session with only one view on your design.

Twitter – Getting feedback in 140 characters or less. If you’re active within the design community on twitter it can be massively beneficial to get feedback from your twitter followers. Whilst you might not get a lot of feedback due to the character restrictions you will get specific feedback from more than one person. Asking for feedback on twitter might grow your relationship with other designers via email or IM where you can ask for feedback more often.

Your Community/Network – Whilst you can send out your potential design to a full twitter network, you could also send a tweet to a good designer friend who can present more detailed feedback. I personally have a small group of people who I can ask and they happily respond with feedback. This ensures that you get more than a 140 character reply but then you can also discuss the theory behind the design you have presented. The more detailed feedback you get the easier you job would be in changing your design if need be. I’d advise anyone to build a good relationship with at least a few people to get more detailed feedback from.

dribbble – I’ve been a dribbble user for a little while now. It’s a fantastic idea by Dan Cederholm and Rich Thornett that allows you to ‘dribbble’ a 400px by 300px screenshot of a design you are working on. dribbble, with an invite only system is closed at various times to new users to prevent a free-f0r-all system. This enables Dan and Rich to keep quality within dribbble as opposed to quantity. Once you’ve ‘dribbbled’ part of your design, other dribbble users can leave comments or feedback regarding the design. It has been argued dribbble shouldn’t be used as a feedback format due to the small area of design that you can show and not knowing the bigger picture. My personal opinion is that you should accept feedback where it is offered, you know yourself whether it is applicable to the rest of your design.

Opinions on Feedback

I asked a couple of designers a few questions on their opinions of feedback. Thanks to Sam, Jon, Grace, David and Chris for getting back to me.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown

Occasionally when I am unsure about a concept I am working on I will fire it around a few of my close contacts who are also designers. This kind of feedback is usually of the Yay or Nay variety – we are all busy and I don’t look for specific or detailed feedback just their general impression. The majority of the feedback I get is from my clients directly.

I have found Dribbble to be a fantastic source of good feedback on design work while it is still a work in progress, hopefully they implement some Privacy Settings soon so I can continue to use the limited and high caliber community as a design soundboard.

Unrequested feedback can be both a positive and negative thing, you have to take it with a pinch of salt – design is subjective and what one person likes might not suit someone else. What I will say though is that if you are giving or receiving feedback, make it constructive – “this sucks” or “don’t like it” is useless unless you explain why and how you think it could be improved.

Grace Smith

Do you actively look for feedback from other designers before sending your designs to a client?

Usually I don’t ask for feedback, however If I’m struggling or indecisive on a certain aspect of a design or build then I find the feedback and critique of my peers can be invaluable. It’s often useful to have objective, qualified people within the community to give actionable, practical advice.

Do you mind if people give you feedback without being asked?

Not at all, as long as it’s constructive, “that sucks” isn’t exactly going to help me improve or refine the concept. I’ve actually had a few people email me about either my personal sites or clients sites to suggest tweaks and I welcome it, especially if someone has taken the time to review your work with the aim of helping you improve it.

How do you take feedback? Positively or negatively?

I take all feedback on board (positive or negative), sometimes you just have to put your ego aside and really listen to the feedback, because ultimately it’s about creating both you and your client can be proud of.

What tips would you give for looking for feedback?

1. Make it easy for people to give feedback – you’re asking people to give of their time, so make it simple for them to do so!

2. Ask a group of trusted peers for private feedback before opening it up to the public. This means you can get an honest critique from your close circle to put the design through it’s paces.

Chris Spooner

Do you actively look for feedback from other designers before sending your designs to a client?

While I think designer feedback could be useful in some scenarios, I don’t usually ask for critique for most client projects. The main reason is that I usually have a thorough creative idea in mind that relates specifically to the client through the research and brainstorming process I went through before the project, so unless this whole concept was explained to fellow designers each time, feedback might be on a more subjective level, which could inhibit the progress of the project.

Do you mind if people give you feedback without being asked?

I often showcase my design project processes on my blogs, and write about all the ideas I went through during the job. Having designers share their opinions and even giving additional advice is always helpful. Often this feedback will highlight areas I might not have considered fully, which then motivates me to improve my skills in other areas. All in all this helps me grow and develop as a designer.

How do you take feedback? Positively or negatively?

If the feedback is given appropriately and constructively, then it’s most certainly taken positively. It’s always difficult to keep a cool mind with general comments like, “This sucks!”, although this kind of feedback can be avoided if you ask the right people in the right places!

What tips would you give for looking for feedback?

Develop a core group of designers who you admire and get along with, ideally these would be designers who also look for feedback from others. Being able to bounce ideas back and forth between these people is a great way to receive useful critique on your work. Remember to always give a background on a particular design or project, to avoid the work being critiqued purely on aesthetics.


Do you actively look for feedback from other designers before sending your designs to a client?

I can’t say I ‘actively’ look for feedback but there’s 2-3 people in the design community who I always ask for feedback and advice and so far its been working great. I think you don’t need to ask a hundred people for feedback, it’s usually way too much info. Asking 2-3 key people some specific questions seems to work best in my experience.

Do you mind if people give you feedback without being asked?

I don’t mind at all! For example, I love getting emails from readers and users about a site design, they’re the ones that matter since they use the site(s), so their feedback is very important to me. Of course it all depends on the context, presentation and ‘tone of voice’.

How do you take feedback? Positively or negatively?

I usually take feedback positively. In most cases those those bits and pieces of information help me make my site(s) better, so I definitely see it in a positive way.

What tips would you give for looking for feedback?

Use tools like ConceptFeedback and FeedbackArmy, they’re great for getting a lot of data for pretty cheap. But, don’t rely only on those tools, ask 2-3 designers you know and trust, and ask some people who are not-designers and who can help with a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective.


Yeah I am always looking for feedback from another pair of eyes. My main goal is to get as much negative feedback as I can find, I then measure that up against my positive thoughts of the design I have created and make changes where I feel necessary.

It is critically important to have a balance between using other’s feedback and trusting your own instincts. You need to be able to accept the good and, most importantly, the bad. The bad feedback is where you learn the most about yourself as a designer.