Feedback processes are crucial for a company's success and are highly appreciated in healthy work cultures. How can you develop your skills and measure your work's progress, if there is no one on the other side to discuss your solutions with?
Product Designers must acknowledge the importance of feedback, since one of the core parts of their jobs is to design for people, and without their insights about the products, we would feel lost in the desert. If you’re a designer spending several hours around a product, you tend to develop a biased perspective of your work. That perspective often needs to be balanced with alternative ways of thinking.
Naturally, feedback has multiple nuances and needs to be strategic for designers to thrive with their solutions. It's essential to learn when to commit, and commitment can sometimes lead to feelings of frustration, almost like you’re running a battle against yourself and those around you.
Obviously, at Pixelmatters, we don't want you to feel overruled by the feedback process. We aim for a solid process with different steps, where clear communication and transparency are the keys to helping feedback dynamics to grow in the right direction. Our goal is not to turn processes into painful experiences but to guarantee they will take designs to the next level while allowing you to grow professionally. Curious to know how? Let me tell you more.
Breaking down the steps
Here are some guidelines for giving and receiving feedback that will make you happy and excited about your work:
Relationship between the team
First things first: When communicating a message, there is always a sender and a receiver. Successful communication happens when the receiver understands the purpose of the message, which might seem obvious but often fails.
In feedback sessions, every participant plays an essential role as a facilitator, ensuring the message is conveniently transmitted. The person asking for feedback should be clear about their needs, while the person giving feedback should share a line of thought respectful of the design needs.
Justifying your thought process is the best way to improve your credibility and confidence toward the other side. On top of that, successful communication deeply impacts feedback efficiency — it reduces the chances of working on a design that might have significant flaws.
Settle a foundation of trust
Trust is a core value in flourishing cultures and a two-way street to foster collaboration — in trust, you will also find the comfort of empowering your inner voice. Being poorly judged about your work is a real fear because it might affect your confidence, and our goal with the feedback is the opposite. Trust can’t be built without a constructive mindset. One can learn a constructive mindset, which is usually related to perspective. And, by perspective, I mean the way we look at things. Let me give you an example:
I once read a fascinating book that, even though not related to this blog post, helped me get to know some real-life examples of how trust can have an enormous weight over your project outcomes.
The book is called “How to Deal with Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie’s long-time best-seller, and tells a bunch of interesting stories, amongst them one related to Bob Hoover, the famous test pilot.
Hoover flew an airplane during the Second World War, and both engines failed in the air. Fortunately, he could land, and just as he suspected, the plane had been fuelled with jet fuel instead of gasoline. That was a mistake. When confronting the mechanic who committed such a terrible mistake, Hoover said: “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.”
Hoover didn’t even criticize the mechanic, as one could expect. Instead, he gave him another opportunity. He just knew that with that second chance, it was very unlikely he would commit the same mistake again.
This is the type of constructive approach you want to follow in your life and work when offering guidance to someone. You will also appreciate it when you’re on the other side. Everyone makes mistakes, and the important thing is how we learn from them. However, learning is strongly connected with our surroundings: if we feel we belong anywhere safe, our motivation to grow increases. If our motivation increases, the quality of our work will be a natural consequence.
Now that we have settled our foundation of trust, we need to go more specific and frame the feedback appropriately. Framing feedback also requires effective communication and a strong relationship between teams:
- For someone about to review a colleague's work: do some preparation work to understand the problem and provide meaningful and oriented feedback.
- For the one asking for support: there are mechanisms to make your life easier. Start with a small introduction of your needs, reflecting the whys. If you’re clear about your needs, you increase the chances of receiving more accurate feedback. In addition, you help the other team members to feel more familiarized with the problem you are facing.
Questioning and Mentoring
Nobody has all the answers, and there are no stupid questions. Asking questions is the ultimate way of unblocking the creative process, even if it feels like you’re over-communicating.
Try focusing on the whys more than the hows — especially if you’re responsible for giving feedback. You don't need to tell someone exactly how to do it. Far more important is to create a framework for problem-solving without spoon-feeding the answers. More than a reviewer, that will make you a true mentor. If your feedback is framed within a specific context, ensure there is always food for thought in the discussion. Even if not applied, extra knowledge can be helpful for future purposes in another challenge.
Another excellent way of leveling up your discussion is having real-life examples of other products as a source, because they are often easier to understand, and you know people already feel comfortable with those.
Of course, feedback can be an infinite process. Creativity flows continuously, and our design solutions can always be more tailored. Setting priorities is necessary because we work with teams with their own priorities, needs, and timings. Overwhelming feedback sessions can drive you off, and focusing on a few strategic steps is essential to develop the best possible solution under the circumstances.
When sharing your thoughts, consider them based on importance. Level them from major to minor and find strategies to succeed while tackling them. If you find a design issue that requires a lot of work, do it first, and leave the minor details to last. At Pixelmatters, we usually start with the more significant changes, in case they are needed, and end with the final polishment. Starting from major to minor issues is also valuable, as some minor issues may cease to exist once you cover the big ones. Strategy, right?
To sum it up, setting priorities is key to coping with the product's strategy and your overall growth. If you try to focus on many things at once, you will probably lose yourself in the sea of endless design possibilities.
Another great advantage of setting priorities is related to time management. When there is planning, we decrease the chances of failing and need extra time. From a time management perspective, you should also consider your team member's schedules.
With remote culture affirming its power globally, planning is crucial. Manage your time slots strategically when it comes to feedback. You can schedule dedicated time slots on your calendar for feedback sessions. Or, at the beginning of each week, you can look at your and your team members' calendars to understand the many dependencies you will have on each other feedback-wise.
With this approach, you let them know in advance how the feedback stream will happen throughout the week and avoid feedback sessions under pressure, which eventually impacts the quality of the feedback.
It seems remote culture is here to stay, so we might as well appreciate it. We should empower asynchronous processes and make them fit into the existing sync processes, making the most of what they offer.
Collaboration tools also simplify this form of communication and allow higher participation at all stages of the product design process, which also empowers feedback. Plus, sometimes, we are in the eye of the tornado facing a complex problem, and need time to reflect on it. Don't rush into the solution. A 30 minutes session might not be enough, and that's perfectly ok. Take advantage of the async to give richer feedback.
Never Ending Process
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.” Winston Churchill said it, and in the end, it’s about that.
Product Design iteration cycles can be a never-ending process but remember that feedback is the moving force of a healthy design team. Also worth having in mind is that feedback should never be faced as the source of truth but rather as a vehicle for new thoughts and ideas, where everyone is accountable.
Remember that you're not your design, and a constructive approach will only bring a positive outcome, whether giving or receiving feedback.
At Pixelmatters, it usually works as an unblocker of the creative process, and you don't have to follow solution x or z. Once again, we want to ensure you are on the right track to achieving the most effective solution. Our final products are the result of numerous iterations that merge different perspectives.