Tips on Providing Useful Feedback

So, you’ve received your first design prototype, and now you’ve been asked to provide some feedback. If you love the prototype and it’s perfect as is, this is an easy task, but the fact is, it simply doesn’t usually work that way and you’re faced not only with saying it’s not quite right, but also with the challenging task of having to explain why.

For your designer to get the most use out of your feedback, and to progress quickly toward a design that does suit you, your comments need to be as explicit as possible. But it can be difficult to put into words what your impressions and thoughts are, and what your vision is for your completed site. These tips will help you to focus your feedback, and guide you through this process.

First, assess your general impression of the mockup. You will know almost instantly whether you do or don’t like it. Often, however, even if you’re not keen on the overall design, there will be certain elements of the page that you do like, and that revisions of the design can be built upon. So, take note of your first impression, then stash it away, and look more closely and critically at the individual elements of the design.

1. Overall layout:

  • navigation placement
  • use of header/footer
  • use of sidebar(s)
  • use of white space

Start with the overall layout. For the moment, ignore the colors, the graphics, etc. — we’ll get to those later. Just take a look at the placement of the sections on the page. Does the "shape" of the design please you? If not, what elements would you like to have done differently? Perhaps you’d prefer horizontal vs. vertical navigation, or you’d like the navigation placed higher on the page, or on the left instead of the right. Perhaps you’d like less or more separation between the body of the design and the header and footer.

Also take a close look at the "white space" — the areas of the design that don’t contain text or graphics. Does your gaze flow naturally around the page? Is there enough white space to be relaxing to the eye?

2. Color scheme

  • primary color
  • secondary color
  • accent color(s)

Evaluating color can be tricky, because it’s such a subjective area. You may adore some shades or tints of certain colors, and abhor others. After all, just because you like navy blue, doesn’t mean you like baby blue. Typically, a page will have three kinds of color:

  • a primary color that is used extensively. This color often forms the background of the page, and is often used as a contrasting text color in sections where the secondary color is used for the background.
  • a secondary color used in text, graphic and design elements to enable certain parts of the design to stand out. The secondary color provides contrast and helps to delineate sections of the page.
  • one or more accent colors used in small amounts to provide contrast and interest.

To get a sense of the colors on the page without the interference of other elements, sit back a bit from your monitor, and squint your eyes until the text blurs. Do the colors balance nicely, but still create enough contrast to be interesting? Is there a particular element on the page that seems overly bright or dark to you compared to the rest of the design? Do some colors simply get lost for lack of contrast?

Try to evaluate each color on its own merits. Perhaps you like the primary and secondary colors, but not the accent color. Or, you like the tone of the secondary color, but want it intensified or lightened. If the colors on the page are just completely wrong for you, try to find samples of colors you like, and that you’d like incorporated. This will give your designer much appreciated guidance.

3. Graphics

  • logo
  • foreground images
  • background images
  • navigation buttons
  • icons

Some graphics, such as logos, are client supplied, but often your designer will create or purchase graphics on your behalf. Graphics can add interest and cohesion to a page or site, but not all graphics chosen will suit your vision for your site. If stock photographs that are used in the mockup are unsatisfactory, try to be as explicit as possible about what it is that you don’t like about them. Is it the subject matter, the colors used, the size or placement on the page? If it’s the subject matter, try to be as specific as you can about what you want the subject of the photos to be, and what impression you want them to convey. Try searching stock photo sites for photos that you’d like.

If custom graphics are unsatisfactory, again try to be explicit about what you don’t like. Do you like the color but not the shape? The shape but not the size? Is the graphic too structured, or too free-form?

4. Content

  • placement on page
  • use of headings, subheadings, etc
  • use of graphic elements to set off certain content
  • fonts

Designers often create mockups using a dummy text known as Lorem ipsum (for more on Lorem ipsum, see www.lipsum.com) to emulate the appearance of natural text. This allows your designer to focus on defining the design before integrating the actual copy, while providing a natural-looking text for the content areas of the page.

Nevertheless, the placement of the text portions of the page with respect to your actual site copy is an important part of the overall design. Will your copy fit appropriately in the sections laid out for it? Are there sections of the page that you would like to use for a different purpose, or integrate differently into the design?

Take a look at the heading and subheading styles. Do they please you, or should they be bolder, larger, a different color? If graphics are used to separate headings, or sections of the page, are they appropriately scaled, too strong, or perhaps underwhelming?

Examine the fonts. Is there sufficient contrast between the text and the background? Are the fonts easy to read, or would you like more spacing between letters, or greater line-height for readability? If romanized (slanted) fonts are used, do they look too jaggy because the monitor can’t display the slanted lines smoothly?

Above all, keep in mind that this is your site, and you and your business will be living with it for a long time. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, and don’t settle for something less than you had envisioned simply because you are hesitant to express your opinion!

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