Oh feedback, where art thou.
Entering week 7 of the COVID-19-induced remote work from home, I’m ready to declare feedback as an official professional casualty of this pandemic.
Feedback is one of the most important pillars of the design trade. It sheds new light on our work, sparks new ideas and pushes us in better directions. Feedback is so ubiquitous in my daily routine as a product designer, that it took COVID-19 sending us to work remotely from home, for me to realize how challenging it is to design without it.
Meaningful dialogues with myself.
Part one of any design process is the legwork: research, finding references, moving stuff around and trying to make different bits and pieces play nicely with each other. We do this through inner dialogues with ourselves: “This paragraph is hard to read, make the font a bit bigger”, “that element pulls too much attention from the main CTA, tone it down a bit somehow”, “Holishit this purple is the wrong HEX what were you thinking??? 🤦♀️”, etc.
This inner feedback voice is what makes us designers. It’s the critical thinking that we accumulate through experience and use to find the right puzzle pieces in the pile of references and use them wisely to create smart solutions for challenging problems.
Being home, isolated from society, makes this part fairly easy to accomplish. After all, you need someone to talk to anyways 🤷♀️.
A fresh ‘peer’ of eyes.
Once you’re done arguing with yourself, you glue everything together into a few potential designs, ready to be shared with a low-scale judgmental audience: the closest designer withing a 50 meter radius.
First, In order to explain the context of your work, you basically go back to the beginning and summarize everything you learned and did using new, simpler words. And you do this out loud, probably for the first time in the process. These two actions often promote learning, that raises questions, thoughts and arguments you didn’t consider before.
Second, peer review is a chance to step back and look at the big picture. There, a few steps away from your work, you get a chance to chat with a knowledgeable friend, in a casual no-pressure environment, about what works and what doesn’t and discuss ideas that can improve your design. Their fresh perspective and your previous knowledge of the project come together, uncovering potential problems, revealing blind spots and leading to new insights and ideas.
This is the feedback type I miss most in these COVID-19 crazed days. The spontaneous action of getting up from my chair, walking 80 steps to the other side of the open space, and hovering above my designer friend, is a regular daily ritual for me. In the past few weeks, the only ones I could approach for this were my partner, my dog and my plants, which all shared the same puzzled expression when I tried to tap them for a peer-review. Virtual communication tools proved to not be enough. There’s just something about sharing a physical space that makes this part magical for me.
The group session
Now you gather a bigger crowd to share their thoughts and comments on your tightened designs. These are the stakeholders of the project, but also a focus group that represents those who will eventually use your product. What doesn’t work for them — won’t work for your real users. It’s also a wonderful window into peoples’ minds, helpful not only for this project, but for future ones as well.
Just like in peer-review, merely explaining your process is valuable. Defending your decisions teaches you a) which elements in your design are easy to explain, which are hard for others to grasp, etc. and b) Which parts you feel are solid and worth fighting for and which parts are weaker and need more work done.
Assembling a review group from remote sounds easy. It’s a scheduled event and usually has a clear agenda. We zoom, I share, we talk, we conclude and write action items in the designated Slack channel. As long as everyone’s connectivity is stable and there’s no lag, it has excellent chances to work.
In reality, however, the meeting is rescheduled multiple times until it just fades from everyone’s calendars. And if it does happen, there are still distractions, people go off-topic for lack of attention, some break off to another meeting and everything just swirls into chaos. Leaving you confused and clueless about how to proceed.
COVID-19 came into our lives and undoubtedly turned everything upside down. Our new reality presents many different challenges, to which we find creative workarounds and solutions. I just hope to find one to feedback as well, and soon.
I miss you, feedback. A lot. 😥