Designing the Best Product: How to Remain Open to Radical Feedback
Feedback is a dicey issue for creative industry professionals. Some designers don’t take feedback at all, and many others don’t take it well. While clients hire us and pay for our expertise, sometimes their needs or desires wind up conflicting with what we present. Keeping the client and yourself happy can be a big challenge.
Avoid Gatekeeping & Acquiescence
The design field is growing, and there are more experienced designers than ever. This level of knowledge sometimes leads designers to two extremes: timidity or rigidity.
Timid: Some designers do not want to push back or disagree with client feedback at all, and in turn do not advocate for their principles. They take all feedback indiscriminately and sacrifice design in the process.
Rigid: Some designers serve as gatekeepers for their design, presenting themselves as “design lords” who can’t be questioned. They are not open to feedback at all.
The designer-client relationship should be intimate and collaborative.
There needs to be something in the middle of yielding too much or not enough. As with most extremes, neither the timid nor rigid approach tends to produce the best product.
4 Tips for Taking Feedback
It’s essential for all designers to be open to feedback – but not just any feedback, radical feedback. However, collaboration is often easier said than done! Here are 4 ways designers can make the feedback process more effective.
1. Be open.
Be open enough to make radical changes to what you do on a daily basis. Embed yourself with the client’s structure and philosophy, and look at things from their point of view. Don’t go crazy, though! It’s essential to still uphold best practices and principles.
2. Understand the message
Maybe the client isn’t saying what you think they are saying, or maybe they’re trying to convey something they have no clue how to describe. Remember you may be speaking a different language, and ensure you’re on the same page.
>> Find out why clients may find it difficult to communicate with you: Is Your Product Development Team Listening to You?
3. Identify wants versus needs.
What the client says isn’t necessarily what they need for their product. Differentiating between the two is essential, as wants can be compromised on whereas needs cannot be.
4. Try not to say no.
Instead of saying no, say “let me try something” else. Seek other options or alternatives that work for both parties.
4 Ways to Find Middle Ground When Settling a Design Dispute
There are many approaches to design, and it can be hard to know when to agree with feedback, when to push back, or when to present another option entirely. I have found the following guidelines to be extremely helpful:
1. Do What Makes Sense.
Identify what makes the most sense, and do it first. There are always different ways to accomplish things, so start with the best way.
2. Prepare. Then prepare some more.
Get out as many ideas as possible before you start. If the client wants to go in a different direction, then you already have other options you’re still happy with. I always try to anticipate a few things the client could say, then prepare to respond to them.
3. Take time away from the problem.
Space and time allow for perspective. How many times have you made something you love, which became less loved (or even cringeworthy) when revisited later? Probably a lot.
4. When in doubt, reengineer.
If you’re really struggling to agree, reengineer the whole thing. Sometimes you need a fresh start. Approaching a design with new eyes and renewed spirit may often lead to a better product -- one that makes you, the client, and -- most importantly, the end-user -- happy.
Despite all your best efforts to find middle ground, there may still be times when no matter what you say or do, you and the client cannot agree. In these instances, it’s effective to show concrete examples and back them up with data. Look to industry leaders and validated design principles, models, and guidelines. This shows the client the design is based upon a standard that’s proven to be effective. If that doesn’t work, you can always turn directly to the users. Conduct user research to validate your idea. If a client sees something is successful, they are likely to become more supportive. It is hard, after all, to argue with proof.
Put the Product (Not Your Feelings) First
Accepting and incorporating feedback can be hard, so it's important to maintain a healthy level of detachment between yourself and your work. Feedback is never a personal attack (even if someone is attacking your “baby!”), and personal preferences vary. At the end of the day, it’s important to please the client but it’s also important to put the best possible product out there. The end-user should always come first.
About Victor Rodriguez, Sr. Product Designer, Praxent
Victor has over 10 years of experience designing human-centered digital experiences. Now, he is a senior product designer at Praxent, where he focuses on leading teams to create products that change businesses and industries.