Feedback — the difference between good and great design.

There are some that think us designers can be too sensitive about getting feedback. That we can be a touchy bunch who don’t listen and do as we like.

We don’t think that’s strictly true.

Most of us know that feedback is a crucial part of the design process. It helps establish a team culture of collaboration and empathy, and forms essential steps towards designing an effective solution.

The truth is that we designers can be sensitive about BAD feedback.

The type of feedback that comes in short, unhelpful bursts of text, which doesn’t relate to any specific design element or objective.

The type of feedback that makes us question whether that exclamation mark is a sign of annoyance or excitement! Emoticons can help, but not everyone uses them. And not everyone can relate to them.

The type of feedback that arrives over email with huge blocks of text, where you can’t gauge the emotional state of the writer.

“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”

The main thing all these types of feedback have in common is that they lack explanation and context, and that can easily lead to misunderstanding.

We all know that design isn’t about making things pretty or pouring our ego into a container for assessment. But if we’re doing our job right, we’ve spent a lot of time empathising with and trying to understand our audience. It’s an essential stage of designing something that’s a great fit for the users. If everyone isn’t on the same page and doesn’t recognise the time and energy we’ve put in, that can sting. And why wouldn’t it? We love design. For most of us, it’s more than a job, it’s a way of life.

It’s not about being precious, cagey or over-protective. We simply want the same depth of thought and empathy that we pour into our work to be offered back when assessing our work.

However, there are two sides to this story. Our team, or audience, doesn’t always see the pages and pages of sketches and thinking in our sketch books. The solutions that didn’t quite meet the design objectives, the ideas that didn’t quite work out.

Everyone needs to know what the trade offs were, why a specific approach was taken — basically why we did what we did. Only then can we all understand how well a solution has been designed and suggest how it can be improved.

We believe it’s an important part of a designers job to help others understand how best to feedback on our designs. Good feedback helps the design process and gets everyone to the best solution, quicker. Good feedback helps build a team culture of collaboration, understanding and empathy.

But jeez, can it be hard. Especially in organisations that are new to understanding the value of design — a number that is thankfully rising as we enter, ‘The golden age of design’

“Everywhere I look companies are hiring designers! Two hundred over here! A thousand over here! We need a lot of them and we need them fast. Finally! Companies have come to understand the importance of design in building successful products and services. Isn’t that great?”
Mike Monteiro (2015)

If people new to design misunderstand our craft, if they misunderstand us — it’s probably our bad. A simple breakdown in communication…

So, maybe we just need to talk to each other, right?

It’s all about effective, human, communication.

Everyone uses their voice, everyone can relate to the human voice, right? We design for humans, why don’t we communicate like humans?

This is why face-to-face feedback and critique can be a way better experience. Its much easier to understand and read the emotional state of the person feeding back. A good designer can better understand and empathise more effectively when we hear someone’s voice.

But, you can’t always meet face-to-face, especially if your team is in different time zones. Design reviews are awesome, but they take planning and the frequency isn’t always there. (Things like Skype can help, if they actually worked and didn’t start with, “Can you hear me? Can you see me?.”)

None of these experiences are helpful or productive for creating a feedback culture where everyone feels able to contribute and feel positive about doing so.

This is why we do what we do.

We built Context for quick, simple and natural design feedback and critique using something we all have. Something we can all understand and relate to — our voice.

With Context, you can understand what was said, and how it was said. Our visual annotations and voice clips help make clear what is being discussed. You can take photos of your sketches and share the early stages of your thinking.

Everyone can keep up with the progress of the design, everyone can be involved regardless of time zones, geographical location and Skype connectivity :)

Why? Because it’s all there — logged online for everyone to see and hear. After all, design is a team sport.

Got a new team member? No problem. They can get up to speed really quickly by simply looking and listening.

We’ve even got some critique guidelines in there so we can help everyone understand what great critique sounds like.

It’s time to speak up and let everyone involved in the design process know that we love feedback. It helps the design meet it’s objectives, it helps us designers grow and develop.

We need it. Design needs it. Now more than ever.

It’s our voice. Let’s use it.

Please do let us know what you think. We truly value feedback, it’s why we do what we do.