The trick to getting better work out of your designer.

Cut the Cute, 2020

They say a picture is worth a thousand words… cute shouldn’t be one of them. Here’s a quick guide on how to get the most out of your designer by employing thoughtful feedback.

There is a common misconception that designers produce to make things look nice. The truth is, design is so much more than making sh*t pretty — design considerations shape our world both physical and digital. Design is tough, often requiring hours of research and prep before production even begins. So why in our modern design age, do we confine ourselves to words like ‘cute’ when we reflect on design?

It’s time to cut the cute.

Why the hate for ‘cute’? I could have used any word to illustrate my example but it boils down to this: cute (or any other irrelevant descriptor) is cheap. By stamping the dreaded ‘cute’ on a design without putting thought into why you felt the urge to use that term, you undermine and devalue all of the hard work that a designer has given you. The term refers to something non-threatening, small, and meek. When’s the last time you requested a design for something that hit those three adjectives? Never? So the feedback is fundamentally irrelevant and cannot be used to gauge how successful a design is. In essence, this level of thoughtless feedback doesn’t serve anyone, least of all your business. If you want to get more value and creativity out of your designer it’s time to swap easy adjectives for well-crafted feedback.

The dark side of cute.

The other downside of sticking to adjectives like ‘cute’ when giving feedback is that the focus is entirely on the visual. By providing feedback on how something looks, you’re turning a critical, blind eye to probably the most important aspect of a design: does it work?

By that, I mean simply: designers are not artists. A designer is someone whose job is to encourage and convince viewers. If you’re hiring a designer, they’re getting paid to make nice things that make you money. Fundamentally, a design has to serve a purpose and the visual is only a portion of the problem being solved.

So noting visual issues in a design is fine, but don’t make it the centrepiece of your feedback. For example, you may wind up with a beautiful landing page, but it could totally fail to capture leads or increase sales. Was the design successful in this case? I would argue not.

The way I see it, you’re in the business of making money. And in order for your designer to help you make money, they have to properly understand your business goals. It’s your job to communicate that early and often, and very much so during rounds of feedback.

So what’s the point of feedback?

In order to reformulate feedback, it’s important to outline its purpose. Feedback is a means of communicating what works and what doesn’t work. It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with your designer.

In order to provide constructive feedback, you have to first consider the problem the project is trying to solve or the objective it is trying to accomplish. Giving feedback is easy: define the goal and frame your feedback around it.

Building a successful relationship with a designer is pretty simple.

Does the design function in a way that solves the problem?

Does the design communicate with the audience clearly (both visually and functionally)?

Does the design properly represent the brand?

Does the layout, visual, and content work cohesively and effectively together? Which is the weakest link? Which is non-negotiable?

Will the design still function as a brand or product grows?

Does the design evoke the desired response or action?

Take note of where your eyes, hands, and cursor land when you experience a design. Does this align with your goal?

By no means should you feel limited by this list, I could go on forever…

In conclusion

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity to provide feedback, I encourage you to focus on your business goals and your designer will thank you for formulating concrete, actionable feedback. Being armed with the goals and key details, a designer is set up for success which is good news for them as well as your business.

Bonus: you and your designer will start to speak the same language and I guarantee the outcome will be significantly more rewarding and fulfilling for all involved.

Director of UX & Design @kahi.io, previously Senior Designer @PointerCreative. Curious & critical. Always problem-solving, never pixel-pushing.