How to deliver better design without good feedback

As I was writing about the 7 ways to get better feedback on your designs, it occurred to me that in some cases you may not be working in an organisation or team that has the right infrastructure or support to help facilitate those ways of getting better feedback. If you don’t work in house - perhaps as an external agency or consultant - or in an organisation with a lower level of UX maturity, you may find that your opportunities for gathering meaningful feedback can be restricted.

Perhaps you’ve been asked to “make it pop”, or that “something needs to change but I can’t quite put my finger on what”, even though you have fulfilled the brief within the constraints you were given, you now feel like you haven’t met the criteria for some unwritten or uncommunicated rule.

If this is the case for you, what are the things we can do to deliver better-designed solutions without having good constructive feedback?

Realise when you have exhausted the possibilities

If you’re reading this because you are not getting the right kind of feedback you need to deliver an acceptable solution, then you may feel like you have already exhausted all of the possible approaches to solving the design problem you have.

If you’re at a stage where you can foresee that you will exhaust all of your potential solutions without making any headway with your stakeholders, but you’re not quite there yet, there is no need to continue to push with the only options that you have remaining. At this point, you have recognised the likely outcome, and the solutions you are looking to are generally more obscure and less intuitive than your earlier designs.

If you’re heading down this dead end, this is the time to take a different approach to solve your problem.

Free yourself from constraints

The most effective way to resolve this kind of situation is to reduce the constraints to which you are designing, preferably down to one.

Now, this may seem counter-intuitive as you are essentially trying to fulfil the criteria of a brief so that you deliver a solution that satisfies all of the requirements for it to be successful. However, our aim at this stage is not to fulfil every requirement within every constraint; we have already been trying to do this and ended up going in circles or even getting nowhere at all.

Out of all of the constraints you have been given, you have to isolate the single most important one for both users and stakeholders, and fulfil the hell out of that one single requirement.

For example, we’ll say we’re designing a landing page intending to get the user to click a call to action button. If this button were to be the most crucial thing on the page, how would it look? What would you do to this button to make sure that your user clicks on it?

I’m imagining flashing animated arrows pointing to it from all angles, the button is on fire, and there’s some kind of urgent messaging on the button to the tune of “Click me to save your life!”. Yes, this is ridiculous and outrageous, and would very likely not be fitting with your style guide or design system, but that is exactly what we’re aiming for.

With this kind of exercise, we’re looking to reset expectations, to break the cycle of continuous iterations that take us nowhere, and to ultimately bring us back to a simple and satisfactory solution.

Reset your constraints

After producing your ridiculous solution with only a single constraint, and the likely graphical abomination it will be, you need to reintroduce your constraints, and work backwards from your single constraint solution to deliver the single best solution to the problem at hand, and the requirements that go hand-in-hand with it. You will likely have all of the ingredients for this solution from all of your previous iterations, or it may simply just be one of those solutions that you have already designed.

There is no need to design multiple versions of a possible solution, just a single design that delivers on the requirements. You don’t need to play one idea of any of your others as you have your single constraint solution for that. 😊

Once you arrive at your best possible solution, it’s time to take it to the stakeholders.

Presenting your masterpiece

This is all about handling your stakeholders and being clear in your communication about the situation you found yourselves in. You will need to set the scene by bringing up the lack of progress towards a solution. This will not be easy, and should never be part of a blame game. You will need to describe the situation you were in, and that you have now taken some rather radical steps to come to a solution that can all be agreed upon.

Now you need to set the scene for the monstrosity of design you are about to show them! Be clear in the approach you took; how you decided on the highest single priority, and created a design around that to fulfil that most important requirement, and how you discarded everything else. If you’re in a position to make this light-hearted I would recommend doing so, but I can sympathise that your stakeholders may not be receptive to such an approach depending on the situation and your working relationship.

Walk them through the monstrosity you have created, why you made each design decision you did, and even call it horrible whilst you’re presenting it. What your aim is at this point is to get everyone in the room to agree that this is the worst possible solution to the problem at hand, even though it is trying to successfully deliver against the most important of constraints.

This will provide you with the platform to deliver the presentation of your more sensible solution that was designed within the agreed constraints, and is what you believe to be the most suitable solution to the problem, and finger crossed, it helps to move your work forward.

How do you handle getting poor feedback?

This is just one way in which you can handle receiving poor feedback from your stakeholders, and I would love to learn how you deal with similar situations. Feel free to share your stories on Twitter (@westleyknight), email me on hello@westleyknight.co.uk, or sign up to my newsletter below.