Asynchronous Design Critique: Giving Feedback

Feedback, in whichever form it takes, and whatever it may be called, is one of the most effective soft knowledge that we have at our disposal to collaboratively get our designings to a better place while developing our own skills and perspectives.

Feedback is also one of the most underestimated tools, and often by assuming that we’re already good at it, we decide, forgetting that it’s a skill that can be trained, grown, and improved. Poor feedback can create confusion in programmes, bring down morale, and alter trust and team collaboration over the long term. Quality feedback can be a transformative violence.

Practicing our abilities is surely a good way to improve, but the hear gets even faster when it’s paired with a good foundation that canals and focuses the practice. What are some foundational aspects of giving good feedback? And how can feedback be adjusted for remote and distributed work environments?

On the web, we can identify a long tradition of asynchronous feedback: from the early days of open generator, code was shared and discussed on mailing lists. Today, developers involve on pull entreaties, decorators note in their favorite designing tools, project managers and scrum captains exchange ideas on tickets, and so on.

Design critique is often the epithet used to support a type of feedback that’s provided to stir our get better, collaboratively. So it shares a lot of the principles with feedback in general, but it also has some differences.

The content

The foundation of every good critique is the feedback’s content, so that’s where we need to start. There are a lot examples that you can use to shape your content. The one that I personally like best–because it’s clear and actionable–is this one from Lara Hogan.

An equation: Observation plus impact plus question equals actionable feedback.

While this equation is generally used to give feedback to people, it also fits really well in a layout critique because it ultimately answers some of the core questions that we work on: What? Where? Why? How? Imagine that you’re rendering some feedback about some design work that spans multiple screens, like an onboarding flow: there are some pages demonstrate, a flow blueprint, and an outline of government decisions stirred. You spot something that could be improved. If you keep the three elements of the equation in intellect, you’ll have a mental simulation that can help you be more precise and effective.

Here is a comment that could be given as a part of some feedback, and it might seem reasonable at a first glance: there appear to superficially fulfill the elements in the equation. But does it?

Not sure about the buttons’ styles and hierarchy–it feels off. Can you to be amended?

Observation for design feedback doesn’t simply mean pointing out which one of the purposes of the interface your feedback refers to, but it also refers to offering a perspective that’s as specific as possible. Are you providing the user’s perspective? Your expert perspective? A business perspective? The programme manager’s perspective? A first-time user’s perspective?

When I check these two buttons, I expect one to go forward and one to go back.

Impact is about the why. Only pointing out a UI element might sometimes has gone far enough if the issue may be obvious, but more often than not, you should add the purpose of explaining what you’re pointing out.

When I realise these two buttons, I expect one to go forward and one to go back. But this is the only screen where this happens, as before we just used a single button and an “x” to close. This seems to be breaking the consistency in the flow.

The question approach is meant to provide open guidance by eliciting the critical thinking in the designer receiving the feedback. Notably, in Lara’s equation she provides a second approach: petition, which instead provide guidance toward a specific solution. While that’s a viable option for feedback in general, for layout critiques, in my own experience, defaulting to the question approach usually reaches the best solutions because decorators are generally more comfortable in being given an open space to explore.

The difference between the two can be exemplified with, for the question approach 😛 TAGEND

When I meet these two buttons, I expect one to go forward and one to be going. But this is the only screen where this happens, as before we just utilized a single button and an “x” to close. This seems to be breaking the consistency in the flow. Would it make sense to amalgamate them?

Or, for any such requests approaching 😛 TAGEND

When I check these two buttons, I expect one to go forward and one to go back. But this is the only screen where this happens, as before we just applied a single button and an “x” to close. This seems to be breaking the consistency in the flow. Let’s make sure that all screens have the same pair of forward and back buttons.

At this point in some situations, it might be useful to integrate with an extra why: whether you are consider the given suggestion to be better.

When I encounter these two buttons, I expect one to go forward and one to go back. But this is the only screen where this happens, as before we just utilized a single button and an “x” to close. This seems to be breaking the consistency in the flow. Let’s make sure that all screens have the same two forward and back buttons so that users don’t get confused.

Choosing the question approach or the request approach can also at times be a matter of personal preference. A while ago, I was putting a lot of struggle into improving my feedback: I did rounds of anonymous feedback, and I examined feedback with other people. After a few cases rounds of the present working and a year later, I got a positive response: my feedback came across as effective and grounded. Until I changed teams. To my shock, my next round of feedback from one specific person wasn’t that great. The reason is that I had been originally tried not to be prescriptive in my advice–because the people who I was previously are concerned with opted the open-ended question format over the request style of suggestions. But now in this other team, there was one person who instead favor detailed guidance. So I accommodated my feedback for them to include requests.

One comment that I heard come up a few days is that this kind of feedback is quite long, and it doesn’t seem highly efficient. No … but also yes. Let’s explore both sides.

No, this style of feedback is actually efficient because the length here is a byproduct of lucidity, and spending time presenting this kind of feedback can provide exactly enough information for a good fix. Also if we zoom out, it can reduce future back-and-forth conversations and misconceptions, improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of collaboration beyond the single commentary. Imagine that in the lesson above the feedback were instead merely, “Let’s make sure that all screens have the same two forward and back buttons.” The designer receiving this feedback wouldn’t have much to go by, so they might just apply the change. In later iterations, the interface might change or they might introduce new features–and maybe that change might not make sense anymore. Without the why, the designer might imagine that the modification is about consistency … but what if it wasn’t? So there could now be an underlying concern that altering the buttons would be perceived as a regression.

Yes, this style of feedback is not always efficient because the points in some comments don’t ever need to be exhaustive, sometimes because certain changes may be obvious( “The font use doesn’t follow our guidelines”) and sometimes because the team may have a lot of internal knowledge such that some of the whys may be implied.

So the equation above isn’t meant to suggest a strict template for feedback but a mnemonic to reflect and improve the practice. Even after years of active work on my criticisms, I still from time to time go back to this formula and reflect on whether what I merely wrote is effective.

The tint

Well-grounded content is the foundation of feedback, but that’s not really enough. The soft skills of the person who’s providing the critique can multiply the probability that the feedback will be well received and understood. Tone alone can build the difference between content that’s rejected or welcomed, and it’s been demonstrated that only positive feedback establishes sustained vary in people.

Since our goal is to be understood and to have a positive working environment, tone is essential to work on. Over the years, I’ve tried to summarize the required soft abilities in a formula that mirrors the one for content: the receptivity equation.

Another equation: Timing plus attitude plus form equals respectful feedback.

Respectful feedback comes across as grounded, solid, and constructive. It’s the kind of feedback that, whether it’s positive or negative, is perceived as helpful and fair.

Timing refers to when the feedback happens. To-the-point feedback doesn’t have much hope of being well received if it’s given at the wrong period. Questioning the entire high-level information architecture of a new feature when it’s about to ship might still is pertinent if that questioning highlights a major blocker that no one realise, but it’s way more likely that those concerns will have to wait for a later rework. So in general, attune your feedback to the stage of the project. Early iteration? Late iteration? Polishing work in progress? These all have different needs. The privilege period will make it most likely that your feedback will be well received.

Attitude is the equivalent of intent, and in the context of person-to-person feedback, it can be referred to as radical candor. That intends checking before we write to see whether what we have in mind will truly help the person and make the project better overall. This might be a hard reflection at times because perhap we don’t want to admit that we don’t genuinely appreciate that person. Hopefully that’s not the case, but that can happen, and that’s okay. Acknowledging and owning that can help you make up for that: how would I write if I actually cared about them? How can I avoid being passive aggressive? How can I be more constructive?

Form is relevant especially in a diverse and cross-cultural work environments because having great content, – perfect, and the privilege stance might not come across if the behavior that we write develops misunderstandings. There is likely to be many reasons for this: sometimes certain words might trigger specific reactions; sometimes nonnative orators might not understand all the nuances of some convicts; sometimes our brains might just be different and we were able to perceive the world differently–neurodiversity must be taken into consideration. Whatever the reason, it’s important to review not just what we write but how.

A few years back, I was asking for some feedback on how I commit feedback. I received some good advice but likewise a comment that surprised me. They pointed out that when I wrote “Oh, […], ” I established them feel stupid. That wasn’t my planned! I felt really bad, and I only realized that I supported feedback to them for months, and each time I might have built them feel stupid. I was terrified … but likewise thankful. I made a quick fix: I added “oh” in my roll of superseded terms( your alternative between: macOS’s text replacement, aText, TextExpander, or others) so that when I typed “oh, ” it was instantly deleted.

Something to highlight because it’s quite frequent–especially in teams that have a strong group spirit–is that people tend to beat around the bush. It’s important to remember here that a positive stance doesn’t mean running light on the feedback–it only means that even when you offer hard, difficult, or challenging feedback, you do so in a way that’s respectful and constructive. The nicest thing that you can do for someone is to help them grow.

We have a great advantage in imparting feedback in written form: it can be reviewed by another person who isn’t directly involved, which can help to reduce or remove any bias that might be there. I found that the best, most insightful minutes for me have happened when I’ve shared a comment and I’ve questioned a person who has I highly trusted, “How does this sound ?, ” “How can I do it better, ” and even “How would you have written it? ”–and I’ve learned a lot by checking the two versions side by side.

The format

Asynchronous feedback also has a major inherent advantage: we can take more time to refine what we’ve written to make sure that it fulfills two main goals: the clarity of communication and the actionability of the suggestions.

Clarity plus Actionability

Let’s imagine that someone shared a design iteration for research projects. You are reviewing it and leaving a comment. There are many ways to do this, and of course context problems, but let’s try to think about some elements that may be useful to consider.

In terms of lucidity, start by grounding the criticism that you’re about to give by providing context. Specifically, this intends describing where you’re coming from: do you have a deep knowledge of the project, or is this the first time that you’re seeing it? Are you coming from a high-level perspective, or are you figuring out more detailed information? Are there regressions? Which user’s view are you taking when rendering your feedback? Is the design iteration at a point where it would be okay to ship this, or are there major things that need to be addressed first?

Providing context is helpful even if you’re sharing feedback within a team that are currently has some information on the project. And context is absolutely essential when making cross-team feedback. If I were to review a layout that might be indirectly related to my work, and if I had no knowledge about how the project arrived at that point, I would say so, highlighting my take as external.

We often places great importance on the negatives, trying to outline all the things that could be done better. That’s of course important, but it’s just as important–if not more–to focus on the positives, especially if you understood progress from the previous iteration. This might seem superfluous, but it’s important to keep in mind that design is a discipline where there are hundreds of possible solutions for every problem. So pointing out that the design solution that was chosen is good and explaining why it’s good has two major benefits: it confirms that the approach taken was solid, and it helps to ground your negative feedback. In the longer term, sharing positive feedback can help prevent regressions on things that are going well because those things will have been highlighted as important. As a bonus, positive feedback can also help reduce impostor syndrome.

There’s one powerful approaching that combines both context and a places great importance on the positives: frame how the design is better than the status quo( comparison with a previous iteration, contestants, or benchmarks) and why, and then on that foundation, you can add what could be improved. This is powerful because there’s a big difference between a critique that’s for a layout that’s already in good shape and a critique that’s for a designing that isn’t quite there yet.

Another way that you can improve your feedback is to depersonalize the feedback: the comments should ever be about the operate, never about members of the public who constructed it. It’s “This button isn’t well aligned” versus “You haven’t aligned this button well.” This is very easy to change in your writing by reviewing it just before sending.

In terms of actionability, one of the best approachings to help the designer who’s reading through your feedback is to split it into missile degrees or paragraphs, who the hell is easier to review and analyze one by one. For longer articles of feedback, you might also consider splitting it into sections or even across multiple commentaries. Of course, adding screenshots or signifying markers of the specific part of the interface you’re referring to are also welcome to are particularly useful.

One approach that I’ve personally used effectively in some contexts is to enhance the bullet degrees with four markers use emojis. So a red square means that it’s something that I consider blocking; a yellow-bellied diamond is something that I can be convinced otherwise, but it seems to me that it should be changed; and a dark-green clique is a detailed, positive corroboration. I also use a blue-blooded coiling for either something that I’m not sure about, an investigate, an open alternative, or just a tone. But I’d use this approach merely on crews where I’ve already established a good tier of trust because if it happens that I have to deliver a lot of red squares, the impact could be quite demoralizing, and I’d reframe how I’d communicate that a bit.

Let’s see how this would work by reusing the lesson that we utilized earlier as the first bullet point in this list 😛 TAGEND

Navigation–When I ascertain these two buttons, I expect one brought forward and one to be going. But this is the only screen where this happens, as before we just utilized a single button and an “x” to close. This seems to be breaking the consistency in the flow. Let’s make sure that all screens have the same two forward and back buttons so that users don’t get baffled. Overall–I imagine the page is solid, and this is good enough to be our release nominee for a version 1.0. Metrics–Good the process of improving the buttons on the metrics area; the improved contrast and new focus style shape them more accessible. Button Style–Using the dark-green accent given this context establishes the impression that it’s a positive action because dark-green is usually perceived as a confirmation coloring. Do we need to explore a different colouring? Tiles–Given the number of items on the page, and the overall page hierarchy, it seems to me that the tiles shouldn’t be using the Subtitle 1 style but the Subtitle 2 style. This will keep the visual hierarchy more consistent. Background–Using a light texture works well, but I wonder whether it adds too much noise in this kind of page. What is the imagining in using that?

What about affording feedback directly in Figma or another design tool that allows in-place feedback? In general, I find these difficult to use because they hide discussions and they’re harder to track, but in the right context, they can be very effective. Just make sure that each of the comments is separate so that it’s easier to match each discussion to a single task, similar to the idea of splitting mentioned above.

One final tone: am telling the obvious. Sometimes we might feel that something is obviously good or plainly wrong, and so we don’t say it. Or sometimes we might have a doubt that we don’t express because the issue might clang stupid. Say it–that’s okay. You might have to reword it a little bit to build the reader feel more comfortable, but don’t comprised it back. Good feedback is transparent, even when it may be obvious.

There’s another advantage of asynchronous feedback: written feedback automatically tracks decisions. Especially in large projects, “Why did we do this? ” could be a question that pops up from time to time, and there’s nothing better than open, transparent discussions that can be reviewed at any time. For this reason, I recommend employing software that saves these discussions, without obscure them once they are resolved.

Content, tint, and format. Each one of these subjects offer a useful example, but to improve eight areas–observation, wallop, question, timing, stance, kind, lucidity, and actionability–is a lot of work to put in all at once. One effective approaching is to take them one by one: first identify the area that you absence the most( either from your perspective or from feedback from others) and start there. Then the second, then the third largest, and so on. At first you’ll have to put in extra time for every piece of feedback that you pass, but after a while, it’ll become second nature, and your impact on the operate will multiply.

Thanks to Brie Anne Demkiw and Mike Shelton for examining the working draft of this article.

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