Thanks to the feedback we as humans have been surviving and evolving for millennia. Feedback is a key component of all the interactions we have, be it with living or non-living systems.
Feedback drives change and through change achieving the desired result becomes possible. Whenever a system/environment reacts to an action or/and behavior we can witness feedback happening. We use this new information to learn and get better. We change and eventually apply the new knowledge in other situations when we interact with interfaces or people.
As designers, we can think of feedback as communication that happens between two sides, alive or not. We must always keep the focus on what feedback will come back from each action or event.
Ignoring feedback runs the risk of killing communication. No communication leads to silence and stagnation. This most often kills the positive user experience, leads to bad emotions and misunderstandings.
Feedback helps us surpass our limitations, move forward, and create better quality products and relationships.
Let’s explore several feedback perspectives that hopefully will inspire you to pay closer attention to and apply this important element of communication and design.
① Humans and feedback
Delivering, asking for, receiving and a few more points on feedback can be found in this section. All of them helpful for improving how we interact with people.
Delivering specific, truthful and focused feedback
The proper delivery of feedback is fundamental to making a difference and causing a change in behavior. If the delivery is not good, well-intended feedback could lead to a damaged relationship and bad decisions.
Whenever you are about to deliver feedback please first stop and open your empathic mind. Make an effort to understand the opposite party perspective, problems, and decisions. Understand WHY things are like they are. This way you can start formulating a specific, truthful, and focused feedback message that can drive change.
Avoid using generic phrases like “This is great!”, “ This is bad!” etc. Instead, make them more specific based on the context. e.g. “This is a great way of showing the right information to the user.” or “This seems to be not the optimal way to show the information. Did you consider alternatives?”
Keeping the feedback specific, focused, and open for more exploration through questions allows for less miscommunication and stimulates problem-solving when you are giving feedback.
Voice intonation, body/face language, and words are important elements of any feedback that you are delivering personally. Whenever possible, provide feedback in person so you can utilize the full specter of your communication tools. Just words without proper context and supporting intonation or/and body language can be easily misunderstood.
Of course, there are many cases where we can only use written feedback. In these cases make sure to formulate your messages as specific as possible. Use visuals such as images, videos, graphs, emoticons to enrich the written communication and reduce the chance of misunderstanding.
ASK more & TELL less
As people, we frequently want to solve quickly all problems we see even when they are not ours to solve. This leads us to use providing feedback as a channel to force our way of solving a problem.
In my opinion, this is not the most efficient way of solving a problem.
Instead of using brute force we can use questions and start building a solution together with the party that is receiving the feedback. Especially efficient when communicating face to face.
Questions are a superb way of providing feedback and framing new ground for collaborative problem-solving.
When you want to deliver critical feedback around a design aspect you think is not working as well as it could, try framing it as a question. Questions that start with “What…” and “How…” are very efficient tools for this case. Try keeping the questions as open as possible.
For example, a design is missing a state for what feedback will the user receive when he completes the task. You could say something like “The designs for confirmation or error messages are missing. I think we should show a notification to show them as a feedback response from the system”. This is OK feedback and forces a particular solution.
However, a better way can be to ask a question “What will happen when I click on the button and I am done with the task?” This question prompts the designer to search for a solution and with that provides the feedback that the current state might need improvement.
This helps the designer to grow and also leaves an open horizon for multiple possible solutions. It leads to the possibility of behavioral change in the designer. It builds up a better relationship between the teammates.
Transforming your feedback into questions can lead to a big positive impact. It will nurture your own growth and also the people who are asking for your feedback.
Asking for feedback
You probably have experienced that even without asking for feedback people have the tendency to give it.
However, in the workplace and especially as Designers we need to make a habit of asking for feedback. Sharing the problems we are solving with the right stakeholders is the only way to gain higher quality in the end product/solution. It also ensures we are moving in the right direction.
Be respectful of the time the other person will dedicate to provide feedback and engage with you. Show gratitude afterward for the received feedback.
When asking for feedback, make sure you are clear on what you want feedback on. Be as specific as you can or you’re risking to engage in a very long discussion without a clear outcome.
Make sure to frame the topic/problem you want feedback on. Ask what kind of feedback you’re looking for. If it’s about a design project it can be about the aesthetics, interaction, user journey, etc. If personal, it can be about any particular aspect of your behavior around that person.
Remember the person you’re asking for feedback should be familiar or even know very well the context. If not he might not get very accurate and useful feedback.
If you want to keep walking forward this is one thing you should learn to do when receiving feedback.
Bench your EGO and go out to get blasted by all the feedback you’ve asked for. If you do that even the most brutal feedback won’t destroy you.
No matter if you receive feedback regarding your work or your own behavior, if you are open for the opinions without getting defensive you will be able to learn and grow. You might even make a new friend. :)
When you receive good and constructive feedback if you are able to let go of your Ego, you will enjoy the discussions and opportunities that arise from the exchange of opinions.
You might wonder how you should let go of the defensive reactions. Here is what works for me.
I firmly believe everyone has the right to have their opinion. I will try my best to understand it and take the learnings from it. If someone’s opinion is different than mine it does not mean mine is absolutely wrong or invalid. I do my best to look at it objectively. In the cases when my opinion or solution to a problem is insufficient, I will incorporate the more suitable one.
It is that simple, and it works for the majority of cases. Of course, when you’ve invested a lot of effort into something and the stakeholder comes and gives you critical feedback it will be really hard to stay objective. However, it is possible!
The more you practice the easier it will be to receive constructive/critical feedback with an internal smile because you know you will grow from it.
Expressing gratitude as feedback
Remember we are all people who by default make mistakes. Giving and receiving feedback is a way to correct them.
When you interact with people and you’ve learned something new from them or got to smile because of the interaction say “Thank you for…” . Give them positive feedback by showing gratitude.
It is one of the best ways to encourage behavior change that will be beneficial for both of you in future interactions.
It is sad to see so many people simply forget to express gratitude towards others in the small daily interactions. You can start the change by simply giving this type of feedback the next time you talk to your friends or colleagues.
② Designing feedback
As designers, designing for feedback should be on the top of our to-do checklist when creating or improving a system/product/game.
When your designed product provides proper feedback, the user experience will be of higher quality and the communication between the design and the user will be smooth and uninterrupted.
Let’s look into several types of feedback that can be very useful to know when you design.
Positive & negative feedback loops
Feedback loops are the foundation of designing good feedback into whatever product we are designing. This is the foundation that allows our designs to communicate with the user and help adjust the behavior in the desired direction. Positive and negative feedback loops are acting as antagonists. They balance each other and by using them in a smart way users will enjoy using your designs.
Positive feedback loops as the name suggests are amplifiers. In simple words, the effect of the interaction is causing more of the same interaction and thus more of the effect. This type of positive feedback is a strong contributor to creating addictive products and services.
In games, all the loot you get from enemies and crates is reinforcing your behavior to go and look for more so you can get more of the same “feedback”.
In the social media context, for example, scrolling one more time on your Instagram feed to burn a new unfamiliar image into your retina so your brain can get a new information snack.
It is that simple and that efficient in driving behaviors. Trigger, action, and sweet reward.
Negative feedback loops have the opposite effect. They stimulate the correction of behavior and can balance out the addictive nature of the positive feedback loops.
A system/product that issues multiple layers of alert notifications when the user performs an undesired behavior is using negative feedback. Each new alert message can be stronger with more restrictive consequences the more the loop repeats. This way you can prevent users from abusing the system and teach them the desired behavior.
If you want to indicate and inform the user of what is happening you need to use this type of feedback.
Conformational feedback doesn’t target correcting the behavior. It is more of an announcement. The user can then interpret it freely and can make a decision about what to do next.
A loud noise alert or announcement that the user has activated a new feature can be examples for this type of feedback. They just inform the user that something has happened as a result of their action. If the user wanted to activate the feature, then he/she knows this was the right action, if not he/she can go and revert the action.
This type of feedback is used when you actually want to encourage a specific type of behavior. For example, if you would like to teach the user what type of information should be entered in an input field. You should provide corrective feedback.
Corrective feedback not only presents the information about what happened but provides instruction/action for changing the action.
A good example of corrective feedback is the Undo notification when you delete/archive an email in Gmail. It tells you what happened and provides a corrective action if you did it by mistake.
Explanatory & diagnostic feedback
This form of feedback can build on top of the previous ones. The feedback is aimed at providing a more detailed explanation to the user of what has happened. By diagnosing why the current feedback is shown you can attempt to teach the user on a deeper level how to avoid future mistakes from this kind even when the conditions are not the same.
This type of feedback is more suitable for when you would like to explain a more complex concept to the user. This way if the user comes across another similar situation in your system/product there is a higher chance he/she can demonstrate the new behavior and avoid getting the same feedback message.
Natural & artificial feedback
Natural feedback is a category of feedback that includes all types of feedback the receiver usually gets from the natural world. All perceptual feedback like touch, texture, haptic, visual, sound, and other sensory experiences can go under natural feedback.
Artificial feedback refers most often to text notifications and explanations. Tooltips, floating text in games, modals, etc.
The purpose of using these types of feedback and mixing them should be to help the user learn to use your product/service.
Not all feedback requires a rich explanation. Many times just simple Conformational feedback is enough to let the user know what is happening and provide enough information form behavioral change.
③ Time & Frequency of feedback
Feedback frequently has the most impact when delivered fast and if possible still in the context that the feedback is for. For example, if you touch a hot stove your nerves endings in the hand will give quick feedback to your brain so that a reaction of preserving your limb can happen.
Time can give or take power from the feedback. In some situations, it is more powerful if the feedback is delivered on a later date so that the final learning can be much more impactful.
One example is monthly data reporting. When the feedback is based on all the data accumulated it can be very powerful even when delivered after months or even years. It enables learning by providing an overview of the big picture and allowing the detection of patterns that otherwise could stay invisible.
Keep the importance of time in mind when thinking about delivering or designing feedback.
Frequency is also of importance when providing feedback. If the feedback frequency is too high and a person gets overwhelmed by the feedback it can backfire and destroy the benefits of giving/getting the feedback.
That is valid for both human to human communication and system to human feedback. Make sure that the frequency of providing feedback is in the Goldilocks zone. This way the receiving party has time to process and assimilate the information.
We all have experience of how it makes us feel with people who are giving us too frequent feedback without us asking them. Or the system and products that do not have the option to bundle notifications or mute them. This saturates the users with too much feedback in a short time span. It can lead to frustration and even losing users.
④ Final thoughts
Great feedback is two-way communication. Strive to deliver and receive feedback in person when possible. Especially when the feedback is critical and important. As Designers, we should aim to deliver and ask for feedback as soon as possible. It speeds up and improves our professional development. It helps us build better relationships with people around us and increase the value of our designs.
Use feedback to guide people towards the desired behavior when they use your products. Remember that feedback is the way your design communicates with the user. Make sure to use the right type and amount of feedback for the context. Mix different types of feedback to get the maximum benefit and to communicate with users on multiple levels. This makes the impact stronger and learning faster.
References that helped me:
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