The Trap of Feedback

August 15, 2019

Feedback can be a tricky thing to navigate, because sometimes, it’s way too early or too emotional for everyone involved to think objectively. This is a problem. And worse – If key stakeholders aren’t all on board with the product, it won’t succeed. This is why handling feedback properly is essential to any act of creation. Here are some things we’ve learned to keep in mind while taking early-stage feedback on a project. 

First Impressions Aren’t the Most Important

While many people find satisfaction in diving into a project headfirst and working until it’s done, there are a few drawbacks to this style of work. Chiefly, one might lose sight of how others might perceive their work. In other words, the way you do your work makes sense to you–so that’s just how it needs to be done. Working day and night on a project like an app, flaws might go unseen, or be accepted, or fixing them gets put off until later. However, other people with a stake in the app might only see the flaws, or maybe your focus on one area wasn’t what they were expecting. Regardless, they will see the work you’ve been doing differently than you do when it’s unveiled to them for the first time.  Positive or negative that initial reaction will skew the outlook on the project from then on. 

If the feedback is positive, sure, It’s nice to hear good things about your work. But mistakes that are then overlooked through rose-colored glasses could manifest into larger problems in the future. If the feedback is negative, it may be because they were expecting a product to turn out exactly how they envisioned it or would have done it, and that’s never reality. Their immediate reaction is born from juxtaposition between what they expected and what they see. This means that even if what they see is objectively better than how they envisioned it, they will never like it.

Many scientists agree that relying on gut reactions in business situations isn’t the best idea.The negative reaction might make developers or designers hesitant to share future iterations with the audience or owner. That ultimately leads to a worse final product.

If feedback is based on a quick glance take it with a grain of salt. If they love it, there may eventually become reasons they don’t. If they don’t like it, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just far from their individual concept. Either way, these quick reactions don’t provide much value. 

sign on street: aarow pointing to right with the heading "awesome", aarow pointing to the left with the heading "less awesome"


How to Get Better Creative Feedback 

When trying to get constructive feedback, it’s important to remember that context is king.First of all, present the design, MVP, or other critical deliverables yourself to the stakeholders, either over the phone or in person. Otherwise, an uninformed intermediary might run their opinion up the chain and influence reactions. This presentation will help provide them context of your decision making and choices about the product or project. This might mean explaining risks you took, innovations you discovered, or unexpected limitations that you’re still trying to work around. 

During this presentation, though, there shouldn’t be any big reveals. You should also be in touch with stakeholders throughout the process any time there’s a big change or deviation from the original direction. This will help to head off negative gut reactions at the pass and allow the client to look at the product with grounded expectations. 

How to Take Creative Feedback Better

It’s important to remember not to take feedback personally. There is no crying in baseball, business, or the feedback process. Try to remain objective and listen so that there is no appearance of defensiveness, which could be interpreted as an unwillingness to collaborate. However, at the same time, don’t be shy about explaining your reasoning or how you ended up in what someone else sees as “the weeds.”   

Taking feedback better gets easier the more you practice, so our best advice for designers and developers is to expose yourselves to feedback more often, more early. Part of the issues that come up with gut reactions could be avoided if stakeholders saw the design or product earlier in development. Yes, that’s scary, because they might not like it. You might fear they don’t have expertise and perspective to appreciate a work in progress. But you’re also limiting your ability to be objective about the work by keeping it close to the chest and thinking of it as “your own.” 

When it comes to feedback, be an open book, but don’t absorb every critic’s reaction at face value. Good or bad, take the time to parse out useful input and put the emotional gut reactions behind you. Your project isn’t an oil painting that can be ruined by one mistake, so don’t be afraid to justify your decision making and talk through the next steps that make sense from all sides. In this way, feedback plays its true role in the creative process, and isn’t a trap to success.