In this episode we talk about what feedback is, how to process it, and how we can make the most of it!
Here’s the post about The Dribbblisation of Design that we refer to.
Sushi: Hello hello! this is Design Lota. The podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers. I’m Sushi
Angie: And this is Angie
Sushi: Last week, we spoke about life at design school. I’ve been thinking, we never get done with design school, in a way, right?
Angie: Yes Sushi. We need to get over it, as well as not get over it – if that makes sense.
Sushi: Yeah! So, this week, we thought we would address something that all designers have to deal with – design schooled or not.
Angie: Feedback! Critique! No one can escape it, but then again – why should we?
Sushi: We’ve been talking a lot about the comfort zone these past weeks…and I can’t think of a more out of comfort zone moment than the time you hit publish, or pin up your work on the wall for a review, or sketch out a quick idea…
Angie: Yes, it’s a strange mix of excitement and nervousness. Our initial reaction is – will they like it? Will they hate it?
Sushi: Or worse, maybe they won’t find it worth caring about. Why don’t we go deeper, and figure out some effective ways to get all the good stuff out of a feedback session.
Angie: So, what can we define as feedback?
Sushi: Showing your work to people? Putting it out there to see what others think of it?
Angie: Why do you think it’s important to ask for feedback as designers, Sushi?
Sushi: I think, the most obvious reason would be to improve work in general, or improve aspects of a particular project we’re working on.
Angie: I like that you mentioned aspects- there are so many stakeholders in design projects, right from the clients to the user personas to the producers or developers, and we can use feedback in all these various aspects. So we do need feedback from all the various stakeholders.
Sushi: So now I think we can agree that we do need feedback. Phew! Now that we’ve got that out of the way…there are various types of feedback one can get, right? With various objectives, and from various kinds of people…
Angie: I believe that sometimes feedback is objective, and other times it’s subjective.
Sushi: oh, can you give us an example?
Angie: For example – if you know Stefan Sagmeister of Sagmeister & Walsh – he regularly gives feedback to people on their logo or poster designs and posts them on his instagram. Now he might not know the whole context of that project but he can objectively say if something doesn’t seem to work visually. Now, there could be a valid reason why a designer decided to use visual imbalance to make a point with his design, and this becomes the context one would have to know in order to subjectively provide feedback.
Sushi: Yes, I think it’s super important to know what kind of feedback you’re looking for…do you want validation from a group of people who are already following your work? Or are you looking to improve something very specific, which only the end user or someone working in that realm can relate to? For example you can’t expect the general public to tell you what they think of a machine that a construction worker is going to use, or an application for nurses to monitor patients. Ultimately you need to consider the experience of the end user..I feel this is a mistake we often make as designers.
Angie: Also, the end users themselves may not foresee some of the use cases, which is why it’s also a great idea to involve other stakeholders in feedback giving. I believe this is a more diverse and inclusive approach. Leaving some stakeholders out of the equation could lead to some serious backlash.
Sushi: But do we really need to consider everyone’s opinion? I feel that trying to satisfy everyone sometimes puts the project off-track, both in terms of objective and resources.
Angie: No, we don’t need to and we shouldn’t try to satisfy everyone. I think it’s important to identify the types of feedback givers. There are people who can look at your work for what it is – without making it about you, and those kind of feedback givers can be very valuable. There are also feedback givers who do make it about you or who only want to look for the negative angles of your work or you. The best way to deal with that kind of feedback is again – weigh it, see if it will help make your work better, if not leave it and move on. If you’ve seen any youtube comment section – you know exactly the kind of ‘feedback’ if you can call it that – that I am talking about.
Sushi: Tell me about it! Also, I do think there are some really well-meaning people, with very strong biases.
Angie: But if the person does feel that strongly about something, and they are a stakeholder, they probably have a point, right?
Sushi: Maybe, but like I said earlier, we can’t make everyone happy!
Angie: Maybe not, but this is where empathy comes in. Even if you don’t agree with the person’s opinion, it really helps to get to the root of where that opinion is coming from. Even if someone seems like they just want to find fault, it might just help to try and understand their outlook.
Sushi: What about strangers? Should we trust the opinion of people we have never met?
Angie: Well, it depends on the stranger!
Sushi: Yes, I’m talking about places where we willingly open up to feedback from strangers. Like when we share our work online, on platforms like Behance, or on a blog such as medium. From my experience, the strangers viewing your work are typically other designers, so I feel like most of the time, the feedback is quite relevant.
Angie: Sure, I remember reading these heated opinion pieces on design blogs on the ‘dribbblisation’ of design. On one hand people felt that a stranger dropping by on your dribbble and saying – ‘amazing dropdown menu’ or ‘love this dashboard’ may not be contributing to improvement of your design – especially theoretical redesigns of products and apps. But it can also be considered objective feedback in the sense of having a visual appeal – though the functionality and user experience requires a subjective eye.
Speaking of all kinds of feedback – Sushi, do you miss Juries from design school? I do!
Sushi: Seriously! I do too, though I may not feel the same if I had to go back to design school. But you know, there was this sense of excitement mixed with fear, along with this determination to show your best work. And of course, a ton of stress, because the work was always incomplete.
Angie: What was nice about in-class juries, is that everyone had a similar brief, so everyone understood the context.
Sushi: Actually there were times, when I misunderstood the brief, and went a step further in the wrong direction. I tend to take things very literally, so this was quite a challenge. With regard to semester juries, I recall quite some drama.
Angie: Yeah me too. Like there was something really grand that a student had spent months creating, with all her classmates cheering her on, and with one wave of a juror’s wand, it was reduced to ashes.
Sushi: Or everyone thought that someone had the most irrelevant and uninteresting work, but a juror saw it in a certain light, and one tiny aspect, which suddenly put the whole thing on a pedestal..and it just became that student’s style! I’ve even had the pleasure of two of my jurors getting into a heated debate, right in the middle of my presentation! All in all, I think jury drama has really taught us to let our work take a battering, haven’t we?
Angie: Yes, and this certainly highlights the need for both objective and subjective feedback. I feel in a professional setting each stakeholder’s feedback might vary based on where they’re coming from and technical or business implications and there are adjustments and trade-offs to be made.
Sushi: I can totally see why getting feedback makes a big difference in a professional setting because of the real world consequences. It’s a healthy exercise for the entire team to huddle and try to pin-point all the issues and challenges from the varied perspectives of cost, production, marketing and sales. I feel this process can really help designers create a value stream for the end product or service.
Angie: How does this work with freelance designers though?
Sushi: I feel it’s harder to get design feedback as a freelancer when the project is in its early stages. You want it, but it’s not always readily available. It’s a bit fuzzy sometimes, not knowing if you’re on the right track. One thing I can do, though (thanks to technology) is, I can send my work over to peers and mentors and get some honest advice.
Angie: I’ve only recently found out about portfolio review sessions. You attended one right?
Sushi: Yes I have been to one, and I can say it went horribly, partly because I wasn’t that prepared, and partly because the reviewer did not understand the context. I also had jitters. I feel it’s so important to make an effort with your presentation, if you want proper feedback.
Angie: I agree. So you’re ‘designing’ your presentation in order to make it easier for someone to give you valuable feedback, right?
Sushi: Yeah. Firstly, if you want feedback, the presentation should be engaging enough to catch the reviewers attention. If they aren’t interested, they will not be able to give you feedback.
Secondly, the presentation needs to flow, touching upon the various challenges, and how these were tackled. Everyone loves some drama. Thirdly, engage the reviewer with questions to further immerse them in the context, and ask for feedback on specific points. I personally feel that, considering there’s a time constraint,
Angie: I feel that it’s a good exercise, though. The more work we make and put out asking for feedback, the more practice we give our ‘feedback filter’ and make the most out of it. It takes humility to ask for feedback and also receive it.
Sushi: Feedback filter…that’s interesting! So the relevant feedback drips into our glass and the next step would be processing it, right?
Angie: Haha Sushi, you make this sound like a science experiment. Yes, so we look at the feedback and see how it can help us improve our design, our process or approach. Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can even find ourselves not moving forward or deep in self doubt. Here, I think we must reconsider the feedback giver and their motive and do some introspection to see if there is any truth to their feedback.
Sushi: Do you have an example of the crippling kind of feedback?
Angie: Yes, one of my interviewers in one particular job interview was visibly unimpressed with every single project of mine, which is fine – not everyone will appreciate all of our work. But this reviewer seemed to pin-point negatives and use them to sell their own work as a company. Even though she maintained till the end that she was looking for someone better, she offered me a position that was intended to take me under their wings and train me. Now there is nothing wrong with getting trained, but something about the way the session went told me that this wasn’t constructive feedback but almost manipulative feedback, if you know what I mean.
Sushi: That must have been really tough! I’ve had a couple of similar experiences, which landed a temporary blow on my confidence as a designer.
Angie: Also this type of feedback was mostly baseless and didn’t offer me any ways to improve my work.
Sushi: Which is why I think it’s equally crucial to give quality feedback, responding and analysing work in a way that can enhance the design measurably or help the designer to grow and improve. I think giving feedback is an art in itself!
Angie: I agree! Comments like “I expected a better concept from you”, or “Your process is not good” , or “This is nothing unusual”, stem from personal biases, and these can attack a designer’s self-esteem, rather than help them improve their work. Instead, we need to recognize that we have an opportunity to participate in making something better, and make the most of it. This includes giving quantitative and qualitative feedback- such as “I think this would look better with a serif font”, or “Functionally, this design works, but why don’t we take it a step further, and explore some asymmetric forms?” And as a supplement, suggest resources or examples that may be useful for the person, like a book or a blog.
Sushi: I was assigned a mentor while I was in design school, who would review my work every couple of months. He wasn’t from an industrial design background, but he always took great interest in my work, looked at it critically and even took effort to find extra resources-books or articles- that could help make me a better designer. He would even point out that something wasn’t my style and that he was glad I was exploring, but also wouldn’t miss pointing out any important aspect I may have overlooked. He was also very picky about the presentation itself. So my presentation skills really improved after having reviews with him.
Angie: That’s great. I think if we pay attention, we can identify the feedback givers who can make us better designers. I remember a jury panel member who was known for his brutal dissection of our designs. He would really cut through all the fluff at our presentations and ask us the hard questions about what the project was really about, without putting down the presenter. Some of his feedback has been valuable and I remember it to this day on the projects I work on.
Sushi: Looks like we’ve learnt some do and don’ts for us as feedback recipients, and our experiences have helped us to learn some of the do’s and don’ts of feedback giving as well!
Angie: Yes, we should keep these in mind when we give feedback – so that it’s effective enough to result in better work and better designers.
Sushi: Yeah, that’s what we all want after all! To make design in India, cutting edge.
Angie: Absolutely. I have some words of encouragement for those listening and feeling stuck because of feedback that was actually the crippling or scarring kind – keep in mind that you’re already ahead of the game if you’re putting yourself out there and showing up every single day. Sushi, I’m thinking we should quote from that talk by Brene Brown that we loved!
Sushi: The one by Theodore Roosevelt? Perfect!
Angie: Well, take a breath coz this is a long one. Here goes: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Sushi: Wow, I wanna go out into the arena and do something after listening to that!
Angie: Great! Hey Listeners, what are the kinds of feedback you have received or given? Tweet to us @designlota
Sushi: And we want your feedback – tell us what you like, don’t like or want us to talk about in the future. How about leaving us an iTunes review while you’re at it?
Angie: Oh yes. We’re on iTunes and Soundcloud – and all our transcripts and references will always be found on our blog – designlota.com
Sushi: We’ll be back next week where we’ll talk to another Indian Designer about a unique journey that took her back to her roots.
Angie: Sounds really cool. Until then, bye!