Design Feedback — Listen vs Hear

At times, designer or non-designer peers tell you how to design. At times, it is >60% different from what you have actually proposed.

As their words reach your brain, it starts firing the neurons carrying header, cards, dialog, buttons, design principles, UX laws etc. Mind lays them on a grid or list style surface. Within a second or two, your mind finishes the job of imagining the feedback.

It takes a millisecond for the mind to sense your likeability for the imagined feedback. If you dislike, things might translate into a defensive reaction. The reaction that got cooked inside, could be in defense of your design or a critique on peer feedback. The mind preps you up to parcel the same.

Your reaction travels at light speed from your mind via tongue to the listener’s ear.

And prompt comes the reply — Wrong destination! a.k.a “This is not what I meant. Let me rephrase it”.

They rephrase. You reimagine. History repeats.

How well you understood the feedback is a secondary question. At the back of their mind, your peer gets a sense that the designer is going to disagree or you are not listening.

Responding without good clarity renders discussion inconclusive and unproductive. The probability of ambiguity is much higher while discussing with a non-designer peer.

Such confusion is bound to happen. The reason being, design vocabs do not enjoy universal recognition yet. Often different people call the same thing by different names.

When feedback meets ambiguity a good practice is to verify your assumptions. To narrate the assumption, say “Your feedback is leading me to an assumption that ________. Is my assumption correct”?. If required, request a design reference or share one to double confirm.

If no reference found, wireframe on paper/whiteboard. Else buy some time to design a low-fidelity mock or prototype. “A prototype is worth 1000 meetings” said Tom & David Kelley from IDEO. And it indeed is. To me, it has served as the fastest means to decode a feedback.

At this stage, don’t try to solve or defend any design. Only focus on decoding what they meant.

In short, choose to listen and respond rather than hear and react.

After gaining a fair understanding of the feedback, communicate your thoughts. Always back up your rationale with data, insights, or design principles.

If you don’t feel clear, don’t rush to respond. It’s okay to hold back. Conclude the discussion by saying “I’ve taken a note of your feedback, I’ll assess and get back in X time”.

Sometimes, people don’t critique your design. They share an alternate idea only. You can call it silent disagreement. After decoding their feedback, as a follow-up asks what are the pros & cons they see in the proposed version. If you see merit in their feedback, accept it. Else work towards building a shared understanding. Plus, keep your design rationale rooted in data, design principles, UX laws etc.


I’ve a story to tell from my design journey. Maybe there are some takeaways for you. I'm here to talk about design in simple words.