Soft skills often make or break promotions and careers. If you can take feedback gracefully and give insightful critiques to others, you’ll always have better opportunities than someone who can’t.
If you’re looking to get better at giving and receiving design feedback, here’s what you need to know!
How to provide feedback correctly
Let’s start with how to give feedback.
While most of us think we’re pretty good at sharing our opinions, we can all improve in some areas. If you’ve been on the other side of a critique, you know how it can feel to get your ideas torn apart by someone else.
But how can we prevent hurt feelings while still delivering the best critique to improve a project and skills? It all comes down to what you say and how you say it.
Setting up feedback
Before you give a word of feedback, spend at least a few minutes preparing.
- First, make sure you’re talking to someone who wants feedback. In a formal critique session, this can be easy. But if it’s informal, proceed with caution; sometimes all we need is support, not suggestions.
- You’ll also need the context. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving feedback on something that can’t change, like a fixed image resolution. Before you start sharing, ask what the boundaries or requirements are for the project.
- Finally, think through what you’re going to say before you start talking. The “sandwich technique,” where you bookend negative comments with positive ones, is a good way to soften the blow. On the flip side, don’t just share what you liked and leave out recommendations for improvement — feedback is a balancing act.
If you’re in a group, share your thoughts, but try not to be the dominating voice. And generally, don’t disagree with others who are offering feedback. If you have a different opinion, consider framing it as “Yes, and…” or “Another idea might be…”
Understand the feedback matrix
Think of feedback as a simple four-quadrant visualization. The right-hand side is positive; the left is negative. And the top is clear, while the bottom is vague.
An example of a clear, positive critique might be, “I liked the simple line illustrations you’ve used as icons.” An example of vague, negative feedback might be, “I don’t like this menu bar.”
Our goal when giving feedback is to avoid the vague quadrants and include clear positive and negative feedback. Neither is “good” or “bad”-- both are necessary to move a project forward and develop a one's skillset.
How to make sure your feedback results in action
One of the biggest headaches we can face when giving feedback is feeling that our suggestions are ignored. True, sometimes people ignore our idea, but most often, it’s that we don’t make them clear or actionable enough from the start.
First, make your feedback as clear as possible (see above). You’ll also want to provide actions that focus on what to keep or change.
For long-term work, it’s a good idea to share concepts that can apply to broader themes rather than the specific project. For example, “change this icon” only applies to a current project, while “let’s make graphic assets look great on all screens” applies to the whole project or even someone’s professional growth.
Finally, offer to follow up or even help with a project when applicable and appropriate. People forget, have other priorities, or don’t always remember your feedback. Share your expertise when the time permits.
How to receive and act on feedback
If you’re going to dish it, ideally you’d be able to take it, right?
When someone else comments on your work, your reaction says a lot about how you’ll fare on a team. So how do you get it right without feeling hurt or getting too defensive?
How to take feedback in the moment
No matter who you are, having your work critiqued can be painful. But the time to let that pain show certainly isn’t during a meeting or one-on-one.
Begin by thanking the person who gave you a suggestion. Showing appreciation demonstrates — to yourself as well as to your critiquer and observers — that you believe there’s truth to what they’ve said.
Next, decide if there is missing context you need to share. Generally speaking, context will come from a third party, not you. For example, “earlier research has suggested the current format increases conversions” is context, while“I considered that, but decided against it” is subjective.
If you’re expected to respond to feedback, it’s a good idea to share your opinion to reach a solution together — not “winning” the argument. Solution-seeking creates a better atmosphere and encourages others to share.
After a critique session, it’s essential to take what you’ve learned and put it into practice.
- First, implement any feedback you agreed on or that you felt improved the project.
- Next, take notes for the future. Often feedback contains broad themes that apply to many deliverables or even your entire career. Write these down while they’re still fresh on your mind, and you can use them to improve future projects.
- Also, ask for input and follow up later to make sure you’re on the right track.
As you progress, you’ll start to look forward to criticism; it’s an effective way to improve what you’re doing now, setting the foundation for stellar projects in the future.
How to keep improving your soft skills to give and provide feedback
Good critique skills will help no matter what your role is. So how can you keep improving and keep those skills sharp?
- Stay up-to-date on the most important research and concepts in your field. These will help shape your feedback, making your responses more valuable when it’s your turn to speak.
- Watch how others give and receive feedback and learn best practices by observing. And this doesn’t just apply to the workplace — we’re communicating with others all day, so you can see this in action almost anywhere.
- Keep a running list of feedback you’ve received in sessions throughout the years. Separate project guidelines, suggestions, and personal preferences, and adapt as needed.
- Invest in education and training that focuses on soft skills. At Practicum, we emphasize soft skills in every course. We believe it’s a key component to getting a great job and delivering quality work.
To wrap up, consider the strategies we discussed:
Giving a critique
- Giving feedback at the right time
- Understand context
- Use the “sandwich” technique: “positive-negative-positive”
- Don’t undermine the feedback of others; Use collaborative language
- Give clear critiques that focus on specific, actionable changes
- Mention broader themes that apply to more than one project
- Offer to follow up or help when applicable
Receiving a critique
- Thank the person giving the critique
- Share missing context, if necessary
- Focus on finding a solution together, not winning an argument
- Implement suggestions quickly
- Take notes for future projects
- Ask for follow-up feedback as you make revisions
- Look forward to critiques as a way to continually improve
Strategies for both
- Stay up-to-date on best practices in your field
- Observe how others give and receive feedback and learn from them
- Keep a list of common issues to work on or share with others
- Invest in a training course that emphasizes soft skills
It’s never too early to get better at sharing critiques and giving and receiving feedback. Whether you’re already working or thinking about a career in tech, you can start brushing up on your skills today.
With Practicum, you’ll get plenty of step-by-step lessons that guide you through the hard and soft skills needed for a career change. And we take soft skills seriously—you’ll learn the right ways to interact with colleagues to sustain a lifelong career.
Sign up for Practicum today and take a free 20-hour course to see if it’s a good fit for you.