How we gather design feedback when no one wants to unmute themselves

Categories: Krit Culture

Video tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts let us conduct meetings across time zones and oceans, and that’s essential for remote work.

But virtual meetings can be awkward as hell.

Specifically, the ones where you, the designer, just finished presenting a design for feedback, and instead of everyone fighting over themselves to speak, you are met with a gaping hole of awkward, blaring silence.

Did the line get dropped while you were speaking? Or worse, is everyone ignoring you because they all secretly hate you and your design and don’t know where to start?

This lose-lose situation can make a designer feel helpless. But that doesn’t mean you are helpless.

At Krit, there are several things we do to get the feedback we need to improve designs.

We'll look at those. But first, let’s look at what not to do.

What NOT to do...from my own experience #

Here’s the setting: You’re on a call with your whole company or client’s team. It’s quiet. You can’t read the room, and you fear this deafening silence will never end unless some kind soul pipes up and provides a response.

In a previous design job, I encountered this. I presented my designs on a remote call to my team and asked, “What are everyone’s thoughts about my designs?”

Silence.

When the silence stretched to an uncomfortable amount of time, I became desperate for some kind of reaction. So, I demanded, “Ok, does anyone hate my design?”

Uncomfortable shuffling sounds.

I was vague, reactive, and impatient — with no plan. Don’t be like the old me.

A better mindset for gathering remote feedback #

You’ve probably had difficulty gathering feedback from remote calls, too, and been tempted to act in a similar manner. I get it. Gathering and giving design feedback can be difficult, especially in a remote setting.

It’s important to realize, though, that this is true for both parties on the call:

  • For participants: It can be uncomfortable for the person who gives feedback. They’re trying to figure out how to articulate their first impression clearly and how to be honest without hurting the designer’s feelings.

  • For designers: In addition, these calls can be especially hard for the designer. They’re trying to listen closely and gather feedback from this meeting in order to move forward with the design process.

This is why gathering ideas internally and externally can take a lot of time. It’s also why designs are often met with silence on a remote call and designers find it difficult to move forward.

The good news is, there is something you can do about it.

Five ways to prepare for a design feedback meeting #

As a designer, your job is to guide participants through providing the feedback that’s most useful to you.

This job starts before you get on a call. Here are some things we do at Krit to gather important design feedback.

1. Schedule design-specific calls #

Don’t: Try to squeeze important design feedback into other packed meetings.

Do: Schedule design-specific calls.

This ensures discussions move more quickly and efficiently. It also helps you gather feedback in real-time without worrying about taking up too much time in the meeting or sacrificing someone else’s agenda item. Plus, because a design-specific meeting is usually small, it helps you build a relationship with the client and encourage trust.

2. Post the deliverable BEFORE the meeting #

Don’t: In most cases, don’t let the meeting be the first time participants see your design.

Do: Post the deliverable that needs feedback before the meeting.

People are more likely to leave feedback in written form than deliver it verbally in front of an audience. So, posting ahead of time helps you gather input. Plus, by posting the deliverable for everyone to see beforehand, you may be able to figure out what elements or sections of your design need revising and can address these concerns in the remote call.

Tip: When you post the deliverable, make sure you say what it is and what that means. For example, “Here is the sitemap for the website — it shows how individual pages will be labeled, prioritized, and linked, and it provides an overview of how users would navigate the website.” This is a good practice in general, but it’s especially important if you’re working with clients who may not have seen a sitemap or wireframe before.

3. Specify exactly what you would like feedback on #

Don’t: Unless you’re wanting a general initial reaction, don’t ask for “anything that comes to mind” (or “what are everyone’s thoughts?” like I did!).

Do: Be specific.

Are you looking for feedback on the new navigation structure? Are you feeling iffy about the color palette? A great specific feedback sentence would look like this: “Please comment on the proposed color palette. Do you feel this color palette would allow the users to easily see and access your most important information with little distraction?”

4. Set a method for receiving feedback #

Don’t: Leave call participants wondering how and where they can give you feedback.

Do: Specify exactly how people can comment on your design.

At Krit, we often ask for feedback as comments on Figma files. Or, for clients who may not be familiar with Figma, we ask for feedback through Slack messages. Personally, I prefer Figma comments. They keep discussions in a single place and are easier to locate in the future. But, for comments written in Slack, I often write them down in a notebook for future access.

5. Clarify when feedback is due #

Don’t: Make participants guess about feedback deadlines.

Do: Provide a reasonable timeframe for delivering feedback.

This is especially important for clients on tight deadlines since any delays have a big impact on the project’s progress. When sharing a design for feedback, I often request feedback within the next 48 hours. If I don’t hear anything by then, I’ll request feedback again. In a situation where a client is not able to provide timely feedback, I remind them of the consequences — e.g. if the client delays feedback, we’ll need to adjust their schedules accordingly. (Luckily, this hasn’t happened often to me.)

Running an effective design feedback meeting #

While gathering feedback before a meeting is often ideal, there are times when you’ll need to walk through a design and gather feedback during the meeting.

For example, there are times when I create a deliverable with multiple pages and the client needs context on the designs — they need some guidance to understand what I’m trying to demonstrate. This usually happens with wireframes or prototypes. In those cases, a presentation is helpful.

However, without some planning and guidance, two unwanted but common scenarios typically happen in a feedback call:

  • Scenario 1: One team member takes up all of the time during a review and doesn’t allow the rest of the group to contribute their feedback.

  • Scenario 2: The team has trouble understanding what types of feedback to give, when to give it, and how...so no one speaks up.

While these scenarios can be frustrating, it’s helpful to remember they happen for a number of reasons:

  • By default, most team members are muted during a call and may feel hesitant to unmute themselves.

  • It’s likely your client or team members are not familiar with the design feedback process.

In addition to the pre-meeting steps I shared above, there are several things you can do to help with both of these causes.

Practice empathy #

Keep in mind that a person giving feedback is dealing with a lot of pressure (especially if it’s a large meeting), and the way they give feedback can change dynamically depending on how they are feeling that day.

Tip: One way to practice empathy is by giving participants time to respond. While you don’t want silence to stretch on for ages, you do want to give others a few moments to gather and then articulate their thoughts. So, don’t rush to fill a silence immediately after you ask a question.

Create a safe environment #

One of a design team’s most important tasks is creating a safe environment. This includes making it easy to exchange effective feedback and teaching everyone how to give it.

One way you can help create this environment is to be specific about what feedback you’re looking for. Also, look for reaction feedback:

A reaction: This layout feels really cramped to me.

Not a reaction: Add more whitespace.

Remember, reaction feedback is helpful because it shows how users are responding emotionally to a design and how it makes them feel. This quickly indicates whether we’re going in the right direction. A non-designer may not be able to pinpoint exactly what they want changed, but if they can react to or identify a problem area, then we can figure out what to rework.

“Effective feedback is not praise or criticism. It is carefully chosen language and actions that propel the learner forward.”

— Regie Routman

Stay open-minded to ideas #

When someone tears apart your designs, it’s hard not to get defensive. But try to stay open-minded to their ideas — even if you strongly disagree with what the person is saying. Then, if you offer additional context, use data and experience to explain your design choices.

For example, someone might tell me they want a more complex animation on the page, but due to our timeline, it won't be possible. So, I'll say that while I understand where they are coming from, due to constraints, adding that feature isn't possible right now — but might be in the future.

Keep in mind, even if your client isn’t staying polite, you can.

Facilitate the discussion with prompts #

If you meet an extended awkward silence, point out specific elements of the design you would like feedback on.

For example, “Here's the updated prototype with the edits we discussed at our last meeting. We talked about the benefits of using two different micro-affirmation animations for two different user flows. I've changed one of the animations to more closely match what the user is achieving by replacing the confetti animation with a checkmark animation — does this new animation look more appropriate for this flow?"

If you’re still facing silence, mention you will post the design on a communication channel and can gather feedback after the meeting.

Wrapping it all up: what to do after the meeting #

You’ve made it through the meeting, but your job isn’t done just yet.

Here are a few more steps we take to make giving feedback easy:

  • Post the designs shared in the meeting so others can access them easily. Make sure you edit the permissions of your design file so everyone who wants to add comments can!

  • If the timeline allows, give team members a day or so to provide feedback after the call. People often need time to order their thoughts, and they might come up with different or new ideas later that weren’t mentioned during the meeting.

  • Follow up. Some people might have mentioned slight edits or taking the design in a completely different direction during the meeting — follow up with these people after the meeting and discuss possible explorations to move the design in a better direction.

Once you finish making edits on the design, post the design back into the communication channel for review.

Awkward-silence-busting checklist #

Chances are, you’ll run into this scenario more than once. So, here’s a checklist you can use in the future to make sure you’re gathering feedback effectively:

Before the meeting

  • Recognize that giving and receiving feedback in a remote setting can be awkward

  • Schedule design-specific calls

  • Post designs before a meeting so participants can review

  • Specify exactly what you’d like feedback on

  • Set a method for receiving feedback (e.g Figma comments)

  • Clarify when feedback is due

During the meeting

  • Recognize the two ways most un-guided feedback sessions play out

  • Practice empathy

  • Create a safe feedback environment

  • Stay open-minded to ideas

  • Facilitate discussion with prompts — ask specific questions

After the meeting

  • Ask for written feedback after the call

  • Share designs with participants

  • Ensure every participant can access designs with the appropriate permissions

  • Follow up on key commentary

Keep in mind the most important results of using this checklist.

For the client, that result is on-track timelines. When you or I have to constantly revise a design, the deadline gets pushed back further and further. This isn’t just frustrating for the clients, it’s frustrating for your entire team who feel the downstream effects. Gathering design feedback quickly and efficiently prevents a toxic environment.

And the most important result for you as a designer? There’s less ambiguity to work with, and that means less time revising. 🙌