Making Bad Feedback from Your Boss or Client Actionable


Most designers work in non-design orientated cultures, where the majority of the people you work with do not have a core understanding of design principles. Believe me. I was one of them. Before focusing completely on building and running UXPin, I was working as a full time in-house UX Designer and UX Manager.

One of the most difficult things when it comes to designer’s solitude is certainly dealing with bad feedback. No, we don’t necessarily mean negative feedback. But feedback that doesn’t provide us with any direction for our next iteration. Even when this feedback is given with the best intentions it can be infuriating.

While there are many strategies out there to hone in and get specific feedback to alleviate this frustration, sometimes it happens anyways. Or it’s too late to hone your boss or client in on a specific detail because they already saw too much. So what can you do to make bad feedback actionable to complete your project?

bad feedback from boss or client

1. Hone in on a Few Key Words

Maybe your boss/client said a bit more than you’re hearing. It’s easy to focus on the filler words of bad feedback, meaning anything that sounds like an opinion or the simple, “I don’t like this” or, “this is a great start” with no additional direction. But instead of getting annoyed that their feedback sucks, try to listen for what they are having difficulty articulating.

For example, if your boss doesn’t like your layout of a new homepage you put together, but loved the new dashboard you created for your product, you can compare the two and see if anything stands out. Can you bring in anything that your boss liked from one piece of the project into another?

Did your boss simply tell you to make everything bigger? Well that isn’t always great feedback. Maybe its that certain important elements are getting lost or the company’s key messaging is hidden behind a hero image that doesn’t elicit the correct emotion from visitors. There may be another way to address the issue instead of making everything huge.

Clients might be even more difficult than that. While, in my experience, they usually want to influence the design process and voice their opinions, they often lack sufficient expertise in the field. Lack of the expertise creates a feeling of inferiority, which may result in the unbalanced feedback. If you’d try to analyse this situation down to its roots, you will certainly notice that enraged clients don’t always mean exactly what they say. They just lack the right words and your help in opening their minds.

By listening for things your boss and client aren’t saying, you will be able to blow them away by delivering something much better than asked for.

2. Use Historical Feedback

Chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve received bad feedback from your boss or client. It’s something that you have been dealing with over and over again. If you can remember or have any feedback written down from the past go ahead and review it. It’s possible that you will be able to identify common trends in what your boss or client are really looking for.

When you finally finished your last project, what turned out to be the solution? Focus your attention not on the product, but solely on your bosses/clients communication. You may be able to put together an entire glossary of what your boss means when he gives you bad feedback, even if he doesn’t realize it.

Using this historical information you should be able to cut out a few unnecessary iterations and greatly calm your nerves!

If you have a long term relationship with your client analysing his or her feedback and communication can make the whole process from initial offering to buy-in of the ready design much more efficient. Knowledge is power.

3. Have an Impromptu Brainstorm

Gathering feedback often feels less like a conversation and more like someone is talking at you. Getting bad feedback is a great way to change the perception that feedback needs to put you on the defensive. Instead of asking your boss/client for feedback on a project if they are notoriously bad at giving it, invite them to a discussion. If your boss/client is far away – just use ux design platform such as UXPin, which allows you to work collaboratively. This way you can brainstorm new ideas or see what thoughts your work has sparked about the project. Simply phrase your comments when you’re soliciting feedback to open up a problem instead of asking for general thoughts.

Also you can respond to feedback with questions and open up a brainstorm rather than simple saying, “okay,” then proceeding with your next iteration.

how to make bad feedback actionable flowchart

If you are regularly getting bad feedback, remember that you aren’t alone! As you know, design is iterative, so don’t fret. Your client or boss may not really know what they want or have difficulty articulating it in ways that make sense to you. Just remember to breathe, work with them and be comfortable doing a bit of heavy lifting to get inside their head.

All in all no matter whether you work in an in-house team, as a freelancer or you’re part of a design studio – we all go through the same problems. Excellence comes with practice.

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