usabilia-blog-context Theory

User Experience: Feedback & The Case For Context

Many times throughout my career, I’ve worked on projects and then … I see that email.

It normally goes like this, someone (who doesn’t know user experience) has gone off and done their own user research and has a new fantastic idea. Normally, this is in the form of a critique or a feature request. And more often than not, it comes from someone who is not the actual intended user of the product or service!

Once, I had someone email me and tell me that they’d showed some designs I’d done to their family at dinner, and the kids didn’t like the colors. You guessed it, that resulted in hours of debating colors based on feedback from people who had absolutely nothing in common with the actual user.

As a designer, feedback is a tricky topic that we all have to get better at dealing with. Feedback helps us create great products. But, it can also result in overwhelm if you have a very active client or colleague who seems to be throwing pasta at the wall, so to speak, and hoping that you’ll actually be able to use one of these ideas.

I’m all for feedback, and believe that great ideas can come from anywhere.

But the truth is, the best feedback comes with context. Without context, feedback has no foundation to stand on.

How can we help colleagues and clients create more context in the conversations that they have about our projects? How can we help improve the quality of the feedback that comes our way? Here are three simple tips on how to cultivate more context:

1. Create A New Narrative

I’ve written a lot about the power of story and characters in designing products. The theory continues when it comes to context. By crafting a narrative, an actual story, of how your product is used and who uses it, you can change the conversation.

Instead of people talking about what their kids think of the colors of the website, you’ll end up with people talking about how an actual character (or persona) from your story would use the product, or specific solutions it has for problems in his or her life. Change the conversation from “I wish it did ________.” to “We could really help Jason achieve ________ if the product did ________.”

2. Ask The Hard Questions

If you do find that you receive feedback that doesn’t come with context, don’t just get frustrated and discount that feedback (yes, I feel your pain!!). Instead, ask hard questions to help uncover the context that isn’t visible. If someone on the team or a stakeholder is giving you feedback that’s more of an opinion based solution, it’s your job to find the underlying problem.

With the person whose kids didn’t like the color of the website, if I’d had more experience I would have realized the truth was that they didn’t like the colors (or someone above them didn’t.) I should have asked hard questions to help uncover the problem. What about the colors didn’t they like? Was it too close to a competitors’ colors? Did it remind them of their college’s rival team or vegetables they didn’t like (yes, true story … I know!)

People who ask a lot of questions are often pegged as being annoying – but it’s part of your job to ask the questions! You have to make the invisible problems visible so you can bring context to the solutions and feedback that comes your way.

3. Learn To Manage Input

If you’re working on a large team or a project with many stakeholders, you’ll have to develop a lot of patience, because chances are you’ll receive a fire-house of input and ideas. The problem with ideas is that, as much as we say we’re not attached to them, when they’re our idea, we sometimes do get attached.

As the expert, you have to learn to manage this input and explain to people that sometimes their ideas and feedback won’t work. You have to work hard to help them see it’s not their idea, it’s that the idea doesn’t fit in the context of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Learn to manage this input and become an expert at explaining context. This way, you can help people see why certain feedback just won’t work and can’t be applied to the product.

One comment

  1. Davide De Maestri

    Really interesting point of view. I would try to tell more questions to my clients instead of chasing his emotions :) Thank you Sarah!

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