Giving feedback on a design is not easy. Especially if you have no experience with doing creative work or have never worked with a designer before. I’ve been working as a professional designer for nearly a decade — and I still sometimes find myself struggling to find the right words when giving creative feedback. So I can definitely relate to anyone out there that is working with a designer for the first time and who is stuck in endless rounds of revisions that are still missing the mark.

This article won’t solve your problems overnight or give you a magic list of bullet points to follow, but it should help you articulate your feedback in a way that will inspire your designer to create something that’s going to help you achieve your goals.

Design is not art

You first need to understand the purpose of design in the context of B2B marketing, and what it isn’t.

It’s not art. I know some folks will disagree with me on this, but in this context, I firmly believe this to be true. Design isn’t about looking cool and it’s certainly not about what is aesthetically pleasing to you as an individual.

It’s all about appealing to your customers, aiding them in understanding a complex topic while building a professional image that subconsciously creates trust. All of which are pieces of a marketing strategy squarely aimed at achieving specific business goals.

Now that we understand the role of design in this context, we can start to think about design from a more objective or goal-oriented mindset.

The cardinal rule of design feedback:
“You do not like anything”

Way back in design school, at the end of every project, we would meticulously print out, cut and mount all of our work on foam board and hang it up on the wall for the whole class to critique. Each student would get up, give their rationale behind the design, and then it was open season for the rest of the class to tell you why it was good or bad.

It was terrifying. But it was even more difficult to critique my peers.

The “rules” were to always start with at least two positive bits of feedback. When it was my turn to critique someone else’s work, I spoke up and said “I really like this…” and my design professor Čedomir Kostović cut me off with, “You do not like anything.”

He went on to explain that personal taste means nothing when it comes to evaluating whether or not a design is achieving its purpose. He encouraged us to say “This works because…” or “This isn’t working because…” instead.

It’s pretty simple, but it gets you in the mindset of being objective, of evaluating design work on the merits of achieving a goal.

It’s too easy to just leave it at “I really like/don’t like this.” And it’s just not useful or actionable feedback.

Don’t hold back

Designers have thick skin. You shouldn’t ever hold back because you think what you have to say will be hurtful. Just don’t be a jerk, or even worse, turn it into a personal attack. Professional designers work hard to be objective about their work, but we will always be emotionally tied (just a little bit) to what we are putting out there. So keep it objective and try not to sling insults. If you’re constructive, you’ll be empowering your designer to do better work.

Now that we have that out of way, let’s look at some examples.

Bad feedback examples and how to make them better

“This button color is wrong.”

Better: “This button color isn’t working because I think it doesn’t match our brand. We want a more serious tone, and this is too playful.”

Why is this better? It gives the designer some background on why that specific color isn’t working. If the designer doesn’t get the reasoning behind why something is working or not, they’ll be left to guess, which could mean wasted time.

“Find a different banner image.”

Better: “This banner image is communicating the wrong ideas. Here are some examples of images I found online that communicate the concept better.”

Why is this better? First, it gives a reason for why it’s not working. Second, it offers up some examples of images that may not be perfect, but they are closer to what you are looking for. If you can’t put some feedback into words, try finding examples of other images or designs online that you think are closer to what you need.

“Make X element bigger/smaller.”

Better: “The hierarchy is off here. X element should be the focus as it matters the most to our customers. Y element is often an afterthought, and while it’s important, it should be secondary.”

Why is this better? Again, it gives the “why.” You also just educated your designer on aspects of your business and now they are armed with a deeper knowledge of what is important to your customers. The designer can now make better decisions in the future.

“This design isn’t trendy enough.” or “This design is too modern.”

Better: “This design is too modern. Here are a few examples of conservative website designs that I think align better with our brand and our audience.”

Why is this better? Terms like trendy or modern are too vague. What’s trendy to me may be different from what’s trendy to you. If you find yourself having to use vague descriptions, it is always best to follow that up with some examples. That way, the designer knows how you define what’s trendy, modern, conservative, etc.

You are probably noticing a common theme here:

Giving good design feedback is about digging a little deeper into your initial reactions and analyzing why you don’t like something.

If you do that, you’ll begin more clearly communicating with your designer and you should get to a final design much quicker. It’s okay to not give any feedback immediately after a presentation. Take some time to think about the goals, what your customers need, and the “why” behind your feedback. It’s not easy, but it pays off. You will get more effective designs that better assist you in achieving marketing goals, and you should get there faster with fewer rounds of revisions.