A mildly controversial philosophy

I’ve read several articles about how to get great feedback out of people. One method is you give them a template “I am suggesting we do [x] because [y]. Another is to be very specific — most slightly seasoned designers know the framing:

“Hi everyone, we’re going to take a look at [this thing]. At this stage, the most helpful feedback is knowing if the functionality makes sense to you. We’re not looking for comments on style or exact wordsmithing.”

Right? In theory it makes sense — we don’t want to waste time with feedback coming at the wrong stage; it’s frustrating to deal with feedback that isn’t helpful; feedback that is uninformed; and even worse is the unsolicited feedback, right?

Usually in workshops there’s a “Not Ideating Right Now” phase and a “Now We’re Ideating” phase. “We’re just trying to understand the problem first…

One day while I was facilitating a workshop, I’d had an idea, but we technically weren’t ideating yet…so I wrote it down on a sticky note and hid it for later because I figured I’d forget it. If I was going to break my own rule as a facilitator, why on earth would I enforce thatfor my participants?

Now during my workshops there’s always ideation sticky notes and you can write down an idea anytime you have it. We just come back to them later (or not, sometimes what you learn later means you kill the idea — which is fine!)

It occurred to me that the same must apply to feedback. You can’t limit when someone has a thought that you possibly should hear.

My Feedback Philosophy

It’s actually pretty simple.

I always take in feedback. No matter who says it. No matter what it is about. No matter when I receive it. No matter how uninformed or poorly stated it is. I will always listen and thank the person for giving feedback.*

  1. We do ourselves a major disservice when we limit feedback. I’ve had great ideas come out of nowhere from places and people I didn’t expect. What if I didn’t have those channels open?
  2. We empower others to be more bold and creative when their interactions with a designer communicate, “Hey, I think you’ve got an important voice and I want to listen to your idea.”

How do I keep channels open?

Constantly. You should be known as a person who loves to hear from others.

It never fails that I find some really interesting insights in there. I learn so much when I give the opportunity for people to share according to what they want to say — not what I want them to say.

Working with Others

If this makes you feel like “Yikes, no way. You don’t know the people I work with. They don’t need to be more bold or empowered!” Well, yes, that’s true. I don’t know them.

But here are a few things I suggest.

I work for a non-profit that has a donation site. I can’t tell you how often I receive feedback on, “We should do [x] with our donate site because my church does [y]” — usually it’s unhelpful, uninformed feedback.

I get to take the moment and either quickly explain why their 50 person church with 2 budgets can do simpler things than our 1,500 person organization with several hundred budgets, or, sometime I get the bonus that there’s a gold nugget in the idea and I should see if I can take it upwards; we’ve had some really neat things happen because we kept the feedback line open.

Finally, remember that the philosophy is to always accept the feedback, but it stops short of always implementing the feedback.

Most people just want to be listened to. This is not to say that their feedback should drop off into an abyss, but if you have any kind of explanation then it goes a long way to making people feel heard.

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, working with yarn, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.

Digital Design Ministry Leader