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Six Tips for Learning from Criticism

| July 2, 2014
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In today’s guest post, tech writer Martin Kerr shares some insights he’s learned through his own user testing experiences. Enjoy!

The development and ongoing success of your website or app requires not only skilled front-end and back-end design; it requires outside feedback. The commentary you glean from observers can go a long way toward ensuring you’re set up for the long haul.

Of course, we always want feedback to validate our own positive opinions. Occasionally, however, it doesn’t. If you dig beneath the surface, though, you just may find that those criticisms have kernels of truth that can help make your product much stronger in the long run.

Here are six tips for taking critique in stride — and using it to make your site better than ever.

1. Encourage It

When you send pre-test emails to your panel group or set up your remote user test, be sure to ask for all manner of open feedback. Simply rewarding positive commentary and criticizing negative thoughts is not going to produce constructive results. Encourage your participants to be candid, honest, and as detailed as possible.

2. Don’t Ignore It

As tempting as it may be, never ignore the less-than-complimentary comments. In fact, seek them out! You’re asking for feedback for the express purpose of improving your website or app, and the only way to truly do that is to address its weaknesses.

Your first glance at negative comments may sting, so let yourself absorb them, then cool off, revisit them, and start devoting some serious thought to integrating them into your strategy.

3. Analyze It for Accuracy

In most cases, you’re going to get helpful feedback from your test participants, but there can be times when a user misunderstands the test instructions or makes an error.

If someone’s feedback conveys that they didn’t follow your instructions correctly, then it can be okay to disregard it — as long as it wasn’t the result of your oversight. Analyze the feedback to figure out what motivated the tester’s opinion. If your instructions were unclear, it may be time to rewrite your test.

4. Break It Down and Organize

All comments should be broken down and organized, especially the negative ones. Exactly how you go about this, however, depends on your individual project. You may want to categorize them by complaint type, or by the relevant sections of your app or website. If you have a lot of feedback to sort through, this is an important step to help you optimize your time.

5. Act on It

After you’ve sorted through your feedback and organized it, it’s time to take appropriate action. Address each problem thoroughly and in meticulous detail, as this is where you can transform your project from rough to polished. The more frequently you get feedback, the more quickly you can adapt to your users’ changing needs and opinions.

6. Retest After Adjustments

After you make the appropriate adjustments, do another round of testing. Depending on your preferences, this could involve a group you used previously or a fresh set of faces. You may not have gotten it entirely right after the first user test, and the follow-up phase serves as an important compass in your journey to achieve the perfect design.

Final Thoughts

It can be hard at first to listen to critique, but the more you listen to your users, the more you can improve your site or app. Plus, the more you hear user feedback, the easier it will get!

If you have a story to share about how you made the most out of user feedback, add it in the comments below!