Making use of feedback

David de Léon

At some point the feedback session is over and you find yourself with a long list of issues, leads, suggestions, reactions and opinions. What do you do with it all? This is the third and final blog post on How to give and receive design feedback.

Much of the feedback you will immediately know to ignore or to start working on. The difficult part is paying attention to those bits of feedback that your natural impulse is to ignore, but which actually contain some important insight. There are many reasons for why we might ignore something. Perhaps we don’t understand a particular comment, or we might be stuck in a particular frame of mind, or it might simply be because criticism can be painful.

  • A good way to work through uncomfortable feedback is to let some time pass. This is one reason for why you should write down the feedback that you get. Let the design rest and then reconsider the feedback that you previously chose to ignore, especially if it is feedback that makes you uncomfortable, and that came from people whose opinions you trust.
  • There is feedback that you can more safely ignore. If you know that someone has a particular agenda or hobbyhorse, or generally likes to affirm their status, this can be factored in when you evaluate what they say. Value judgments (both positive and negative) that are not accompanied by some rationale are hard to do anything constructive with and can usually be put aside.
  • You don’t need to use only reason to work your way through all the feedback that you have collected. Design cannot take place solely in your head. If you are unsure of the value of a particular idea or suggestion you might take the risk of trying it out and seeing what it does to your design. Why not explore a suggestion that you disagree with or feel especially opposed to.

In addition to the risk of discounting valid feedback, there is the risk of blindly and unquestioningly accepting positive feedback. There are many reasons for why other designers might respond positively to something in your work, even though those things may have little to do with the reactions of actual users of your design. Just being aware of this fact is one important countermeasure. As is always asking for specifics for any positive feedback that you get. We of course have other means than feedback for validating our design work, but it is useful to remain sceptical towards the favourite parts of the design we are working on.

Having your work criticised can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and threaten your sense of self worth. To make it easier for you to receive and make use of feedback I’d like to end on a couple of ideas that have helped me personally:

  • Realize that there is nothing than cannot be improved on in some way. Feedback is thus an essential and unavoidable part of making something excellent.
  • Feedback is information. You can choose to see feedback as just data, information that is neither true nor false, but which you can make use of in various ways in order to make your creations better.

In conclusion, there are things that you cannot do without feedback, and if you want to improve your skills and the quality of the things that you create, feedback is essential. It is hard to think of anything as effective as good feedback for improving the quality of a piece of design, and for facilitating personal growth. 

Strive to improve your ability to elicit, receive, give and make use of feedback; the payoff will be out of all proportion to the effort you put in.

This is the third blog post in a series of articles about giving and reciving feedback. Part 1 is centred around ”Receiving feedback”. Part 2 on ”Giving feedback”. If you want to read the whole she-bang in one sitting please visit David de Léons Medium.

Thanks

I’d like to thank Kristoffer Åberg and Nils-Erik Gustafsson for their sage and cogent advice on an earlier draft of this essay.

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