As I continue down my path of design, I’m continually reminded of the value and importance of an outside perspective. As I look back to the early days of my career, I cringe at how my ego got in the way of critical feedback from any “non-designer.” Even though you’re taught how to listen to design feedback in school, no one teaches you how to use that feedback to drive conversation and then drive conversation into action.
Granted, not all feedback and criticism is relevant and/or actionable. But, I’ve found that critical conversations, nonetheless, provide immense value to the team. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in facilitating meaningful design conversations within your team.
Create a safe space for design feedback.
Before kicking off any internal design review, I level-set expectations with my team. I empower them to speak their minds. I also tell them that no thought is dumb, and just because you’re “not a designer” doesn’t mean your opinion doesn’t matter. In many ways, I begin each review in the same way that I’ll kick off a research session.
- “There are absolutely no wrong answers.”
- “You can not break this prototype or design.”
- “We are looking for genuine, honest, feedback.”
I notice when I don’t level-set with my team beforehand, I often hear crickets once I open the floor for comments and questions. After some effort, I would almost always hear: “But, I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” While this sentiment is very appreciated, this is detrimental to the overall design process. When your team feels empowered to share their thoughts and opinions, you’re more likely to see things from an entirely new point of view. Being so closely tied to the work, you’re unable to see the blind spots in the design that your team members can quickly identify. Whether you know it or not, there may be an unspoken solution just lying in wait.
Build Solutions Together
Just because someone on the team isn’t a designer doesn’t mean they don’t have design chops. When asking for team feedback I’ll often hear the line, “Um, I dunno, I just do whatever the designer tells me to do.” Every time I’ll reply with, “But what do YOU think?”
It’s incredible the kind of dialog that can occur when you provide the opportunity for your team to speak openly and freely. There have been plenty of instances where an idea or suggestion from a peer has drastically improved the trajectory of a design. In this environment, team members can work to discover new opportunities and solutions together. You should never underestimate the power that a fresh perspective can bring to the table.
Along with helping discover new solutions, this also creates a conduit of trust within your team. This trust is critical to the success of any project. When your team feels emboldened to share their thoughts and opinions, you can quickly target weak points in your design or areas of confusion in your user experience (UX) flows. Remember, your team doubles as an early user research group. So if they struggle with understanding your vision, so, too, will your users.
Open yourself to design feedback.
In theory, this is a no-brainer, but in practice it’s very challenging. Design, by nature, is extremely subjective. It requires a mix of creativity, passion, and imagination. It’s almost impossible not to develop an emotional connection to the work. As you can imagine, it can feel quite difficult to open yourself up to a world of criticism when so much of yourself feeds into the design. But, that’s where a shift in perspective can make all the difference.
It takes a bit of practice and repetition, but learning to detach yourself from the work is a total game-changer. This doesn’t mean that you lose your passion for design. It means that the work doesn’t define your talent. Allow yourself to see the work as a vehicle for conversation. Use the work as a way to spark meaningful conversation and embrace critical feedback. In doing so, you open the door for the the team to build that conduit of trust and create that safe space mentioned above.
Making sure everyone has a seat at the design table is no easy feat. It takes time and practice to build that trust and rapport with your team. It’s even more challenging to embrace the discomfort of feeling as though your work is under a microscope. But, if you can learn to find a space for every voice at the table, you might be surprised by the richness of the conversation.