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Benefits of a feedback culture for designers

A pattern of lines bouncing off each other.

I’m in the process of setting up a recurring design feedback meeting at B12 and wanted to use this post as a way to collect my thoughts about feedback — starting with the benefits.

Over my career my views on gathering feedback have evolved. As a young designer, I remember being really arrogant and getting annoyed with receiving feedback from anyone that wasn’t a “professional” designer like me — I mean what did they know about design? A lot has changed for me since then, thanks to my time at Shopify and Automattic, and now my perspective is very different. Collecting feedback is an integral part of my design process which helps me build better products. Here are some of the benefits I’ve learned over the years:

Feedback makes a designer’s job easier

They had a saying at Shopify that feedback is a gift and I truly believe it. Not only does it take time and effort to give thoughtful feedback but it’s also a great tool for moving work forward. When I started embracing feedback, I noticed that my work as a designer got easier. I no longer felt the need to make all the hard decisions on my own. I began to work out in the open. Whenever I found myself at a crossroads or unsure in which direction to proceed, I would share the work so I could get it out of my head and gather other people’s thoughts as to what was working or not. It was around this time that I also started to see my role as a designer change from being a sole creator to more of a facilitator of ideas and discussions.

Feedback makes your product more accessible

I’m not going to get into all the reasons why you should create an accessible product, because that could be an entire post on it’s own, but I will share two, in no particular order, that keep it top of mind for me: the first is that it makes good business sense. By having an accessible product, you’re opening up opportunities for your business to serve more people. Secondly, it’s about being a good human. Nobody should be excluded for reasons they can’t control and everyone deserves access to equal opportunities, good tools, and quality products. Now for how this relates to gathering feedback…

As an individual, I am limited by the experiences that I am exposed to. As much as I try to learn, and grow, I only know what I know. Gathering feedback from other people is one way you can broaden your horizons by bringing more people, from as many different backgrounds as possible, into your process. Starting with your colleagues at work and then expanding out to people outside the company, the collective experiences people bring to the table can help you identify barriers, unconscious biases, and ambiguity that make a product hard to use.

Giving feedback makes you a better designer

Just like everything in life, the more you practice, the better you get at it. Giving feedback is no different and pays off in multiple ways. When you review other people’s work, you’re practicing your ability to analyze work for its merits and deficiencies. This same lens can be applied to your own work helping you think through your decisions and view your work with a critical eye. Then when you share your feedback, you’re practicing your ability to articulate your thoughts and share them in a constructive way. A skill that is very handy when you’re presenting your work to other people.

Feedback makes your product more consistent (and easier to use)

On a recent call, I sat down with one of our other designers to learn about their role at the company and see what they’re working on. Being new to the company, it was great for me to learn how a different part of the product worked. As the call went on though, I also noticed a lot of overlap with the work I was doing and how we were approaching similar problems with different solutions.

Had we not gotten on that call, or ever spoken because we work in different parts of the product, then it could have been very possible that we designed different experiences for achieving the same end results. Not only would this have impacted our customers, having to learn different interfaces, but also our engineering teams by duplicating their efforts in building, reviewing, and deploying code. I knew this from before, but after that call it reminded me how helpful it would be to have a time where people could come together to share their work and collect feedback.

What have you learned from collecting feedback?

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I have a follow up in the works with some guidelines around sharing and receiving feedback. If you have any other stories of the benefits you’ve gotten from getting feedback, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to reach out over Twitter or LinkedIn and let me know.

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