Exploratory design feedback
It’s difficult to give design feedback, when you have little or no explanation of the design, that is sensitive to the designer, that isn’t just a personal preference or that isn’t just a dismissive, vague compliment.
I often use a technique I call exploratory design feedback. This technique consists of systematically working through the design and writing down every question I have. Why are the buttons different colours? Why is the logo not vertically centred? How do I save the form? How do I go back? Any question is worth writing down and even if I come to understand the question later in the process I will usually keep the question, for reasons detailed below. I mostly use this technique for web and interface designs, but it can be used in other areas too.
When I give the results to the designer I usually tell the designer not to respond to my questions. It’s not an exercise in justifying design decisions it’s a process of being exposed to questions about the design. Instead, where applicable, the designer should answer the questions in the design itself. If I have questions when I’m taking the time to thoroughly understand the design a user who briefly ends up on the website has far less chance of understanding it.
I think this technique works well in that it allows me to give in-depth feedback through a process that is non-threatening both for me and the designer. It gives the designer an opportunity to ignore any feedback that is irrelevant or already considered. It should pick up any basic mistakes. It provokes the designer to think about their design decisions. And, best of all, I’ve found that what is usually a difficult process becomes easy.