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As a designer, the things you choose NOT to include in your designs is also design — after all, our work is about all prioritization and reduction. Similarly, as a leader, the feedback you choose NOT to give is an extremely important part of your design feedback.

Lately, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to a different aspect of design that is not directly related to the craft: creating a safe collaborative environment where designers can perform at their best.

I have seen and heard many stories of talented designers who feel frustrated by external factors that, ultimately, prevent them from operating at 100% of their capacity. Those external factors can include many different things: managers who don’t give designers enough room to grow, colleagues that don’t give them credit for their ideas, an excessively competitive energy in the room, fear of receiving feedback in public, impostor syndrome, lack of clarity on what the next steps should be.

What do all these stories have in common?

Designers who have had their self-confidence undermined by an external agent.

If you’ve been in this industry for some time, you know designers who are not confident of their own skills will certainly produce suboptimal work.

The elephant in the room

Design review meetings are a crucial moment for any designer out there. It’s the moment of truth: they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position, presenting the output of their work, sharing their thought process, and being judged for both their hard skills (visuals and craft) and soft skills (presentation and thinking).

For those reasons, being a design director, creative director, stakeholder, or in any other leadership position where you are giving people feedback on their work, is a place that requires a lot of empathy towards the designer.

On one hand, designers have to feel comfortable enough to receive negative feedback, have harsh discussions about the work, and understand that in no way those discussions should be taken personally or become about the designer’s talent. Mature designers know not to take design feedback as insult.

On the other hand, your leadership position doesn’t give you the rights to be an a**hole whatsoever. You don’t need to be the person carrying an elephant to every room you join.

Here are a few basic principles I follow to give proper feedback to designers, without hurting the team morale and without undermining their creative confidence in the process.