What a terrible word for anyone in the design community. It’s quite possibly the worst feedback anyone can ever give. But you know what’s even worse? We’re all guilty of using the damned thing.

Here’s the problem

There is no explicit value to a designer when she reads something along the lines of “I like Option 2 more, it’s cleaner.” For most people, the only way to define “clean” is by saying what it is not. The closest you can get in this case is clean isn’t noisy or cluttered. It’s piss poor feedback.

As designers, we understand what you might be trying to communicate, but we also understand you have no idea what the hell you want or even what you’re thinking. Still, we smile grimly and manage to trick ourselves into taking pride in having received such feedback.

But I tell you this: it’s all crap. It’s useless, inaccurate, misleading, and downright annoying. Design feedback is about critiquing someone’s work, looking at the context to consider the pros and cons of such a design, to provide tangible thoughts and ideas for the designer to go back and iterate on. “Cleaner” doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s a design feedback copout. The only thing worse is saying nothing at all.

But there is hope…

Poor communication is not beyond you or your peers. Sadly though, the rest of us have to rely on you to help them. There’s hope for us all, and it starts with asking questions:

  • What do you mean by “cleaner?”
  • Is it more effective than X or Y?
  • What’s your gut reaction to seeing X? And Y?
  • What feelings come to mind with one design over the other?
  • What if we did X to Y, instead of A to B?
  • What do you like about the “unclean” one?
  • What don’t you like about the “clean” design?
  • In the “clean” mockup, what’s the focal point or call to action? What does it entice you to do?

They’re not perfect questions mind you, but the point should be clear: keep them talking in an effort to help them evaluate your work. When you receive feedback, ask questions. Draw some conclusions, then ask for more feedback. Without that cycle, you end up with heartless “clean” design, and that’s not good for anyone.

Challenge yourself to move past the word “cleaner” and get great design feedback. Challenge those around you to get even better feedback; set them up for helping you do your job better.