The Importance of Getting Great Feedback in Web Design
It seems silly, obvious, trivial, even trite (thank you thesaurus!), but taking a little extra time to show your design to a peer before presenting it to the client or art director is an easy way to clean up your work and omit mistakes that you might have missed otherwise. Getting feedback from your peers is an easy way to get a unique perspective on your work from outsiders who might see things that we don't. This article examines the key benefits of getting great feedback on your web designs and we'll also share a few tips for getting it.
I'll also list 14 places online where you can get feedback, critiques and exposure without ever leaving the comfort of your office chair!
Fresh Eyes Aren't Such a Bad Thing
When I was in art school, most peer reviews amounted to long winded class sessions that were more frustrating than they were helpful. For a while, this gave me a bad impression of what the purpose of a peer review really was - in most cases, my peers just weren't interested enough to really give great criticism. Just like many experiences in my college life though, this one didn't really give an accurate impression of how things work in reality.
In my experience since then, I've discovered that finding a source of good quality, consistent critiques of your work can often be an invaluable resource for improving both individual projects as well as your overall performance as a designer.
The Benefits of Feedback
It's the Simplest Form of Quality Assurance
When a company is building a car, Quality Assurance (or QA) is the step where people actually drive the car to check whether or not the wheels fall off. In the world of design, quality assurance generally comes in the form of having people inspect work (be it a flat comp or a coded website) for obvious flaws, mistakes and oversights. When you're working on a project for hours on end, it's easy to go into visual-burnout mode; A quick 5-minute review can often reveal problems in your design that you just didn't see while you were obsessing over the details.
It Gives You an Alternate Perspective
In most design studio environments, internal reviews are built into the workflow; For lots of designers that work in an individual capacity though, it's easy to forgot about the fact that your design is going to be seen by a LOT of people, not just you and the client. Having outside people review your design is the cheapest way to get a quick understanding of how visitors will react to your work and whether or not it's succeding at it's goals.
It Forces You to Confront Your Own Work
When the projects are stacking up and clients are calling incessantly, it's easy to skip the "honest" parts of our workflow. In most cases, if a designer is given just one project and an ample amount of time to work on it, he'll spend a good portion of the project being critical of his work. The first thing to really go out the window when things heat up is that intuitive desire to really become our own critics; Hearing other people critique our work can be the best way to shake off laziness and see through a rough-draft to the polished final product that we want it to be.
How to Get Great Feedback
Now that we know why we should want feedback, let's take a look at some tips for getting it and making the best of it:
Tip 01: Offer Only a Brief Explanation
When requesting feedback for a design, you don't need to give an hour long presentation (visitors of the site certainly won't have that kind of patience). A quick, 10 second explanation should be all that's really necessary for your peer-reviewer to do his/her work; Anything longer will ruin the main purpose of the peer review - to reveal gaps and mistakes in the design. Don't let your long-winded explanation become a crutch for a design that just needs a little improvement for it to stand on its own. If the function of the design isn't obvious to the reviewer within a minute or two, your design probably still needs some work.
A quick, 10 second explanation should be all that’s really necessary for your peer-reviewer to do his/her work; Anything longer will ruin the main purpose of the peer review.
Tip 02: Don't Be Defensive
This step is simple, but lots of people have a hard time living this out - let your reviewer know that they should speak their mind and be open about what it is that they are seeing. Having them mince words and spare your feelings won't really push you to do your best work. Plus, if they spot a key weakness in your design that you can fix prior to the client presentation, they've just made you look that much better in front of the big decision maker. A little criticism now will save your reputation in the long run.
Tip 03: Reciprocate
In most cases, your peer reviewer should be another designer (or at the very least someone who has a grasp of the medium - your grandmother who doesn't know how to right-click might not be a big help here). Because of this, the best way to really ensure consistent, quality feedback is to actually reciprocate by giving them feedback when they need it.
There's another reason to give criticism back to your peer-reviewer (no, not to get even with them for their latest scathing review!); Giving feedback can be one of the best ways to improve your own ability to "see". Being a good critic not only means that you'll be forced to be more analytical; it means that you'll be forced to communicate your own feedback in a way that others can understand... and believe me, being able to quickly articulate your thoughts in a review-situation is a vital skill for any designer.
Being a good critic not only means that you'll be forced to be more analytical; it means that you'll be forced to communicate your own feedback in a way that others can understand...
Tip 04: Find a Community
There are actually quite a few sites out there that have been built on the premise of fostering communities that provide the same kinds of critiques that we're discussing here. These online sources of feedback might require a little extra work up front on your part (in the form of leaving comments on other user's work and being active in the community), but they can be just as effective as having someone critique your work in person.
The following selection of sites is quite broad; I'll try to cover everything from open communities to usability apps to invite-only design networks. The key here is that you find the platform that works best for you. Some beginners might fit in best at one site, where industry veterans might find their home at another. Let's get started:
Review My Design
Review My Design hits home on the points discussed earlier in this article... Frankly, I wish there were more like it because it's one of the only sites on this list that is dedicated to giving and receiving feedback from other web designers. Review My Design is a community based site where designers can help out other designers by providing constructive criticism on their work in order to help improve it. It's free to join, and like any community, the more people who get involved, the better it becomes.
I'll admit that Dribbble is one of my favorite new sites of the past couple of months. It's an invite-only community of designers where you can share little snapshots of projects that you're working on at the moment. This is great for getting feedback from fellow designers while you're mid-project, but not so great if you can't find an invite (I had to beg, cheat and steal to get one). The only real downside that I can see: the work on there can be so good at times that it feels strange uploading a mediocre snapshot.
Forrst is another invite-only community of designers that is focused on sharing links, screenshots and code snippets. The pros: the community is professional, experienced, and likely to know what they are talking about. The cons: it's invite only at the moment, so you'll have to wait for an invitation or wait for a public opening.
DeviantArt is an excellent community to get involved with if you're seeking feedback - they even offer unique options like tagging your uploads with "I want critiques", and it's completely open to the public. Like most communities, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it. "deviantART is a platform that allows emerging and established artists to exhibit, promote, and share their works within a peer community dedicated to the arts. The site features vibrant social network environment receives over 100,000 daily uploads of original art works ranging from traditional media, such as painting and sculpture, to digital art, pixel art, films and anime".
With nearly 6000 threads and well over 100,000 posts, Sitepoint is another site leading the way in terms of having a big, active community. It certainly helps that they have 60,000 followers on Twitter alone. Sitepoint is a well known name in the field of web design, and they are well respected thanks to their large selection of books, e-books, and articles.
Critique the Site
Critique the Site is one of the more unique feedback platforms. Users can enter the URL of your site and leave feedback through a frame on the left side of the page. This is great if you want to invite specific people to your site for inline reviews; You can even integrate this with social media sites like Twitter, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.
Concept Feedback turns the process of giving feedback into a game. Reviewer rate your work on four criteria: Design, Purpose, Originality and Engagement. Based on how much feedback reviewers give, they can gain special badges, points, and ranks to brag about how awesome they are at giving feedback. This is one of the more active communities out there, and it's endorsed by some heavy hitters like the New York Times and WebAppStorm.
Five Second Test
Five Second Test does what you'd expect; Users are shown a website for exactly 5 seconds, then asked a series of questions about what they saw. What's great about this process is that it allows for the instant, knee jerk feedback that's so crucial in any website. If users aren't informed and interested within the first moments of visiting a site, there's a good chance they'll bounce right off of it. Boasting nearly 270,000 reviews so far, it's worth checking out.
Usabilla is a tool that allows you users to place notations on your live website. This is great if you're managing a redesign and want to get feedback from beta testers - viewers can simply use the in-browser tools to add notes to the elements they have feedback on. You can even run activities like "Click the first thing you looked at on this website".
Another site that is great if you already have a live website up and running. Userfly is focused on giving feedback that's a little less direct than the other sites on this list; Rather than having users report back, Userfly gives you reports on how visitors are actually using your site. You can even watch real users click around your site... which is equally interesting and creepy. What's great about this is you get a real life example of how people browse your website, something that few other sites are offering.
Flickr isn't often thought of as a place to get feedback, but if you consider the wide audience that it brings in as well as it's simple commenting capabilities, this is a great place to post some of your designs to get reactions from a wide range of people.
Behance is one of the more professional communities of creatives out there right now. Behance is mostly catered towards designers looking for a complete portfolio review (rather than critiques on individual projects), but the wide array of people on the site makes it a great place to get exposure and reactions to your work from designers and art directors alike.
Creattica is another site that functions primarily as a place to upload your entire portfolio once you're good and confident with it. In addition to it being a great place to get exposure, it's also an effective way to gauge user's reactions to your work through a voting system that's open to the public. Oh, and it's part of our awesome network of Envato websites!
Please Critique Me
Please Critique me is a fantastic idea for a site: allow industry professionals to review the work of anyone who wants to submit. The site appears to be defunct (the last post was on February), but it's worth noting the idea of a "board of experts" approach to a feedback site - if only to encourage them (or someone else) to make it more active. The only downside: these experts probably have day jobs!
Tip 05: Before You Launch, Ask The Target Audience
Here in Los Angeles I have a hard time going to a movie theater without being asked if I want to see an advance screening of an upcoming film. These advance screenings have three things in mind:
- Gauging Viewer's Reactions
- Developing Buzz
- Countering the Professional Critics with Actual Audience Opinions
This last tip will slightly go against my previous advice to seek out the advice of peers and experts. While your fellow web designers can be enormously helpful in the early stages of a project, what you really need towards the end of a project is the opinion of actual users. If you're designing a "Twitter for Beginners" app and every peer that you show your work to is familiar with Twitter, you're doing yourself a disservice by avoiding feedback from the people you're actually targeting: beginners! Likewise, it's important in any project that you define the target audience and actually show the design to that target audience before you finalize the design.
There are a lot of ways to get feedback, whether it be in person or on an online community or web-app. The key principle to remember is that it's worth the time to actually go out and find it. I hope you've enjoyed the article; Post your own comments and opinions below!