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Graphic Design
Graphic Design

Cracking the Design Code: A Guide to Giving Design Feedback

An image of shapes and charts to represent an annual report

Feedback is a crucial part of the creative process. Great campaigns, websites, and brands don’t happen in a vacuum – it takes collaboration between organizational and creative  teams to produce strategic, effective work. Yet for many nonprofit leaders, providing constructive design feedback can feel like speaking a foreign language.

Good design is about more than about aesthetics – it’s a powerful tool for conveying messages in a universal language that is understood by all. Beyond logos, design includes color schemes, typography, imagery, motion and layout. Brought together, these elements create a distinct brand identity that establishes trust and helps supporters recognize and remember your organization. 

As humans, we experience good (and bad!) design every day in our lives. Think about the joy of using your favorite coffee mug where your four fingers fit perfectly in the handle, or the frustration of squinting across the street to read the tiny type on a parking sign. Remember that as someone who interacts constantly with design, you have valuable input to share in the design process – even if you feel intimidated by hex codes and design grids. 

Whether you’re new to working with professional designers or uncertain about your visual instincts, fear not! Your unique perspective and understanding of organizational goals are essential to the design process. We're here to share practical tips to help you navigate the art of good feedback and collaborate well with designers on your next project.

1. Ask questions to build collaboration.

Just like any good relationship, the one you have with your design team should be built on trust, respect, and honesty. Sharing creative ideas takes vulnerability, so establishing trust and psychological safety is essential to give space for solutions to flourish. 

When reviewing design work, get curious about the  designer's thought process before jumping to provide prescriptive direction. Asking open-ended questions about the research and decision-making behind design choices provides valuable insights for your feedback. Questions can often turn into mini brainstorming sessions that lead to better solutions. 

One other simple but sometimes overlooked point when you get into critique mode – don’t forget to express what you like about what you see. Discussing successful elements is just as valuable as going over areas that need refinement, so that your design team can lean harder into what’s working. Keep the relationship healthy and morale high!

Example: “I appreciate the thought put into this design. Can you walk me through the research and reasoning behind the layout choices? How does this direction align with our goals? Have you considered this scenario?”

2. Connect back to goals and objectives.

You like modern, minimal design, but your colleague wants to go bold and eclectic. You think serif fonts feel old-fashioned, but your organization has always relied on them. Before you get into a visual debate, consider this: What will appeal to your audience? 

Creative work is inherently subjective – there are countless potential solutions to any creative challenge. That’s why aligning design with strategic objectives is crucial. Rather than bringing in your personal preferences, emphasize the impact on your intended audience. Focus on what you’re trying to say, who you’re trying to say it to, and the feelings you want to evoke. (If your organization could use a refresher on your core audiences, check out our 6-step brand audit.)

Example: Instead of saying, “I don't like the color,” you could express, “I feel like the color might not resonate well with our target audience, who’s looking for something more approachable and warm.”

3. Prioritize clarity over jargon.

Design language is filled with technical and UX/UI terms like “kerning,” “negative space” and “hierarchy.” But if you’re not fluent in design speak, don’t worry – you don’t need to know the lingo to deliver effective feedback. 

When providing guidance to your design team, focus on how the visuals make you feel and their alignment with the intended message. Be specific in your communication to minimize room for interpretation (and potential confusion). For example, “I don’t feel like this is working because the type will be hard for our older members to read” is much more constructive for your team than, “This doesn’t work.” When possible, make actionable suggestions that still give your designers room to apply their knowledge versus providing specific corrections that can limit creativity.

Example: Rather than using design terms like "negative space" or "kerning," you could say, "I think the spacing between these elements feels crowded, and it might make the message less clear."

4. Don’t just tell, show.

Ever come across a fundraising appeal or donation page that instantly makes you think, “Design goals”? Creating a Pinterest board or a folder with images can provide invaluable inspiration when you and your design team need it.  

Rather than attempting to explain visual ideas with words, embracing the power of examples can help bridge the design communication gap. At Statement, we love when clients send links to other websites or images, colors, and styles aligning with the aesthetic or mood they desire. Your examples don’t have to come from the nonprofit sector, either – great inspiration can come from a favorite lifestyle brand, art, or even nature.

Example: “I love the way this website hero integrates motion elements. It captures the vibe we want for our website.”

5. Streamline group feedback.

Nonprofits often need to bring multiple perspectives into the creative process, including staff, donors, board members and community members. However, disparate feedback can not only create confusion and balloon costs, but lead to watered-down work that falls victim to too many opinions

Be selective when it comes to whose opinions you seek, and be clear about who has the final say in the design process. We find that up to three main stakeholders is a good number for any small to midsize nonprofit. If you seek input from additional stakeholders or groups, let them know specifically where you’re looking for feedback and which aspects of the design are already set. Once you’ve received feedback, take the time to sort through it before sharing back to your design team. Eliminate conflicting comments, opinions that depart from the objectives, or other feedback that isn’t constructive to the end goal, and then translate those comments into concise bullet points. We live in tools like Google Docs, Asana and Figma to make collaboration smooth.

Example: If you’re looking for input from your board members on two near-final logo concepts, try saying, “We’ve been working with our design team to develop a new logo that captures our brand identity through [X, Y and Z]. We’ve narrowed down the options to Concept A, which [brief summary of concept], and Concept B, which [brief summary of concept]. We’d love your perspective on which version best expresses our brand.” Pro tip: This approach works best if your board has already seen and bought into your brand strategy. Lean on your design team to help guide your board or other stakeholders through the process! 

Remember, Feedback Is a Gift

Like any other skill, giving good feedback gets easier the more you do it. While it can be uncomfortable, it’s a critical part of the process – and a professional team will accept it gracefully. By embracing collaboration, trust and clarity, you’ll build strong relationships that help you and your design team do your very best work. 

At Statement, collaborative feedback rounds are integrated from start to finish on every project we touch, because we know they make for happy clients and stellar work. Curious about unlocking the transformative power of design in your organization? Let’s talk!

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