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Facilitating good design discussion: reflection before feedback

Published 8 months ago • 3 min read

Today's tip is about how you go about helping to facilitate good feedback from stakeholders. Let's go!


We teach children something that we often don't stick to in our adult lives: think before you speak.

I'm as guilty of not following this rule as anyone. I'm from an outspoken and (sometimes brutally) direct Dutch / Welsh family, and the son of a radio presenter. I didn't have any trouble offering my opinion until I got a bit older and considered the true impact of my words. We can't make anyone really stop to think before they say stuff about the design, but we can create a bit more space for it.

Here are a few of ways we can do that.

Tactic 1: Frame the feedback

To get our stakeholders in the right state of mind to give constructive feedback, it's useful to frame what that looks like well before we ask them to give it - you might call it pre-reflection reflection.

Many ideas and questions will pop into their heads while they see the design work. If they can identify unhelpful feedback that pops into their head before they even get to say it, everyone saves time later.

In Death by Screens you'll learn much more about when to do this from the suggested template structure, but in short, frame the feedback just before you start showing the design.

You can use a slide like this one to talk about the kind of feedback that's constructive, vs. that which isn't (without saying 'this is what an unhelpful comment looks like' too directly...).

OK, so we've prefaced the design with some sense of what good feedback looks like to start them reflecting early before any thoughts are formed.

A free-form discussion while you talk through the design isn't a good idea, especially if the audience is a bit larger. Allocate a dedicated time to discussing the design with your stakeholders after showing the design. Explain it without interruption first, and then manage how the feedback will happen.

Tactic 2: Define the boundaries

Let's imagine you've just shown the design, and are about to invite discussion. Just before you do, put some boundaries around it.

SAY: “Thanks for listening. We’d like to gather your input on this now. In this discussion I’d ask two things of everyone. First, let’s keep this impersonal. This is about the design, not the designer. Second, let’s avoid solutionising. We can talk about what’s working, what’s not, and why, but it’s better if we don’t try to design the thing during this meeting.”

That last point is hard to stick to for many stakeholders, but at the very least, you can then call out when the discussion is outside of the boundaries.

Tactic 3: Reflection before feedback

Now is the time for think before you speak. Just before we talk, we invite them to write down three things they like (to keep it positive and balanced) and three things they'd like to give feedback on or discuss.

Doing this on their own in silence and on paper will let people form better articulated thoughts than anything off-the-cuff.

SAY: “I’d like to ask you now to take a few minutes to write down 3 things you think are working well in the design, and 3 things you have comments or questions about.
We’ve sent you a link to the design just now in case you want to take a closer look while you reflect.” (This can also be a printed handout).

Tactic 4: Delay and document

In chapter nine of Death by Screens, we'll cover six strategies for responding to feedback in the moment, including delay and document. Anything you don't have time to discuss now can be delayed for now, and then documented later. This is easier because you've already asked them to write down a few thoughts.

If there's a large group, or you're facilitating discussion by taking turns, people likely won't have to to discuss everything that's on their mind. You job is to make sure everyone gets heard; you can ask them to limit discussion points to one per person, and document the rest on your shared design tool.

SAY: "Thanks to everyone for putting your thoughts on paper. As there are so many of us today, let's make sure everyone has a chance to input. Can I ask you to choose your one most important point to discuss now, and put the rest on Figma after the meeting?"

Documenting feedback in a shared tool (e.g. on Figma) has a few additional benefits - delaying mean more time to think it through; writing means it's better articulated; and leaving comments in context (i.e. on the design) usually means more relevance and detail.


In summary: frame what good+bad feedback looks like before you show design work; set some boundaries for the discussion; have them write down feedback before giving it; move anything you don't have time to discuss to documentation.

Tell great stories about your design work

Death by Screens: available now in paperback or ebook

Death by Screens: the newsletter

by Ben Sauer

My book "Death by Screens: how to present high-stakes digital design work and live to tell the tale" - is here to help designers tell better stories about their work. Get three winning presentation tips from the book by signing up below!

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