What Are You Really Hearing? Effectively Processing Feedback

At some point during a person’s career, getting feedback from a boss or teammate isn’t out of the ordinary, but it’s something that may not happen every day. In the life of a UX practitioner, getting and responding to feedback is an ongoing event. However, effectively processing and putting that feedback into action takes practice. In researching this topic, I came across three articles which address how understanding and processing feedback at all stages of the UX process will help both the fledging UX designer and the seasoned pro alike.

Before acting on feedback, having an understand of the aspects of how criticism presents opportunities for growth is important. Some of those aspects, as outlined in Andrew Follett’s How To Respond Effectively To Design Criticism, include: discovering blind spots (outside perspective helps to uncover areas of improvement), challenging yourself (taking your work to the next level), and developing communication skills (communicating your objective to a critic will hone that skill). In Jessica Harllee’s Sharing Our Work: Testing and Feedback in Design, she learned that by showing her work in its early stages to other designers on her team and users and testing widely to get an array of opinions made for strong products and better customer experience. Getting comfortable with feedback during the stage of creation when designs aren’t finished was the best way to avoid having customers stuck with a product they didn’t want. It’s not something many designers are comfortable doing, but Harllee points out that pushing for diverse feedback throughout the process will meet user needs and help to develop better products.

Feedback timing and perspectives are important, but the other part of the equation is responding to and putting the feedback into practice. Follett’s article outlines eight suggestions on how to respond to critical feedback:

1. Have the Right Attitude: All design is subjective, an art form and people will see it from their perspective. Be ready to look at things from another point of view.

2. Understand the objective: Before asking for feedback, make sure that the person you are asking understands what you are trying to accomplish, i.e., what are you trying to get them to do. If your objective is confusing, your feedback will be off-kilter.

3. Check Your First Reaction: Take a deep breath and count to ten because your first reaction to criticism maybe to get mad. Taking a step back and resisting the urge to lash out is the best thing. Getting honest feedback is the only way to become a better designer.

4. Separate Wheat from the Chaff: This is really about separating honest feedback from someone who is just having a bad day and is taking it out on you and your design ideas.

5. Learn From It: Putting the feedback into practice is pretty difficult, but to grow as a designer, the need to push ourselves is necessary. So, if someone mentioned that the user tasks are too broad or the scenario doesn’t make sense, revisit notes taken during user interviews or if the copy doesn’t make sense, look for ways to improve it whether by taking a class or asking for advice from a more seasoned copywriter.

6. Find a New Idea: Sometimes, scrapping what you are working on and starting from the beginning might be necessary. Honest feedback may be just what’s needed to hit the reset button.

7. Dig Deeper: When getting feedback that you don’t understand, the best thing to do is always ask more probing questions. Asking directly: “Can you please give me more detail on that?” is better than just walking away with questions still lingering in your mind about what you have been told.

8. Thank the Critic: Thanking someone can create a lasting impression. If you respect the person’s opinion, you can leave the door open for further exchanges in the future.

No matter where you are in your UX career, the best feedback advice comes from Facebook’s Julie Zhuo’s article she wrote entitled Taking Feedback Impersonally. Her approach comes from knowing what mindset you are approaching feedback with: growth vs. fixed. If your mindset is fixed, you’ll see critical feedback as a reflection of who you are. A growth mindset approaches feedback from the perspective of you are always growing and learning, so feedback will help you develop.

Feedback is an integral part of the entire UX process – from research to prototyping. Opening yourself up for it can be an intimidating, but ultimately a better experience and product will come from it.