The Value of Constructive Critique in Website Projects
In a web design project, there isn’t just one step to be completed and then a website magically appears. Here at Digital Reach, we make custom-built quality websites and try to organize our projects with plenty of communication between us and the client. At each stage, there is an opportunity for feedback that presents itself in many ways, although critique is the most desired.
In the book Discussing Design, authors Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry distinguish between the different types of feedback in three ways:
- Reactive feedback: “Ugh, that’s gross!”
- Direction-based Feedback: “I would have made all the text two pixels larger across the board.”
- Critique: “If the objective is to make the content of an article easy to read in a leisurely setting, then perhaps we ought to consider a larger font size that allows readers to sit further from the screen because they will otherwise have to lean in to read the words.”
Reactive feedback is normally the least constructive type of feedback. It doesn’t offer any reasoning behind the reaction, only exactly what the user is thinking the moment they look at a project. Things like this normally happen because the message between the client and the designer wasn’t properly communicated. For this reason, we create special questionnaires (which we continually tweak and optimize for the best output). On the other hand, positive reactive feedback (i.e., “Looks great!”) although encouraging, isn’t informative enough to help designers know where to go from there.
Direction-based feedback is a step in the right direction, but is normally too specific (since the client is normally not a designer). When we’re looking for feedback, it’s best to get it in terms of feelings and general thoughts than any specific direction. Otherwise, the designer isn’t able to do what they’ve trained in, since they’re being controlled too closely. If the designer tries to reason why a specific suggested solution may not be the best route to go and is steamrolled, then they might feel that they aren’t allowed to go against what a client brings up. Telling the designer to make very specific changes (make this section black, make all of the header text all caps) and not allowing them to provide well-supported advice against doing certain changes can cause the site not to get the intended look and feel it was originally going for.
Critique is the holy grail of design feedback. When we get this kind of feedback, we get a reason why something isn’t working and a general direction to go in (maybe suggesting more color, or making body font slightly larger so their target demographic can read the site more easily). This is extra helpful because, while the client is explaining what doesn’t work about the current design, they do it in general terms that make it so that the design isn’t pigeonholed in one direction. Sometimes not allowing the designer to give input towards a good solution to the current issue can cause the project to go in the wrong direction.
No matter the route you take with your project, it’s important to encourage open communication and expectations between client and designer to give you the best results possible.