Getting started with user feedback
User feedback allows you to understand user expectations and impressions throughout the design process—whatever design process you use. Whether it’s design thinking, human-centered design, or something completely different, user feedback helps you keep pace—and remain connected with your users—in a constantly changing world.
As the saying goes, walk a mile in your customers’ shoes, and you’ll better understand their journey. Sometimes, getting close to your customers isn’t an option—at least not physically. And even when physical interaction is possible, getting your customers in the room can be time-consuming and expensive. Nonetheless, there is a need for their perspective. Customer needs, wants, and desires are more critical to understand than ever.
If you’re accessing this guide, chances are you recognize the value of user feedback but might not know how to incorporate it into your design process. Whether you’re a mature organization with a fully-staffed UX design team or a team of one, this guide will help you, and your organization hit the ground running with user feedback so you’ll be prepared to meet your users’ needs despite a constantly changing world.
User feedback separates good designs from bad
For anyone familiar with the benefits of user feedback, it’s hard to imagine your development cycle without it. Whether you’re designing a new product or experience or improving on an existing one, you need to understand the people who use it. Why they use it. What they use it for. Where the moments of unnecessary friction are. Where the moments of absolute delight spring from. The list goes on.
You need to see your product from the user’s perspective. And the best way to do this is to gather feedback directly from them.
Ultimately, user feedback in design is a mixture of qualitative insights and quantitative data gleaned from actual users on their likes, dislikes, impressions, and desires about a product. Collecting and making sense of user feedback is critical for building new products or making improvements to existing ones based on user needs.
Gaining buy-in from stakeholders
Getting buy-in from stakeholders doesn’t have to be a major challenge. Similar to how understanding your users’ needs helps you create better products for them, understanding what motivates your stakeholders goes a long way.
Jesse NicholsSenior UX Designer, Taxslayer.com
It’s important to remind yourself that stakeholders are also users. They’re your users that you’re serving as the UX team, so you need to balance their needs with the needs of the end user.
If your stakeholders are new to the concept of user feedback, you’re in a great position to pitch user feedback as the cornerstone of your design process. On the other hand, if this isn’t your first time trying to validate the need for user feedback, there's a different approach you can take.
Let’s start with the former.
Introducing your stakeholders to user feedback
Designers often face the challenge of getting stakeholders excited about user feedback and ensuring that they understand the value it provides. One way to overcome this is telling a story that truly speaks their language.
1. Show the ROI of user feedback
If you remember the first time you watched a user struggle with a design—or delight in it—then you know how powerful that moment can be. A clear example of a user struggling with a feature or design element transcends nearly any objection and speaks directly to the bottom line.
Greg ThomasDirector of UX Design, Taxslayer.com
To convince people of the value, put your users and their voices out there and don’t sugarcoat it. What the stakeholder needs to hear is the user’s real response. Don't put a varnish on it by typing it into a PowerPoint. Play the video. Show them.
Share an example that will resonate with your stakeholder. Find out what metrics need to be met to be a success in their eyes. Which metrics are they focused on improving? Are conversions on a particular page dragging sales? Do you have a new product that needs to achieve adoption goals? Whatever metrics matter most to your stakeholders are the ones you’ll need to tie back to user feedback and how it can improve them.
Essentially, you're making intangible goals—like finding value through user feedback—tangible by connecting them to metrics. If you can measure the success of a design decision by connecting user feedback to activities that drive value, you’re in a good spot.
Figure 1. Framework for connecting business goals with user feedback
1. Goals and objectives
- Define goals that align to business problems
- Get stakeholder buy-in
2. Study and tasks
- Define activities that expose participants to concepts or experiences that represent problem spaces
3. Feedback and insights
- Group thematic findings that guide business decision making
4. Activity and impact
- Develop products, services, or solutions that address critical findings
- Measure the impact the findings had on business goals
2. Speak their language
When you’re meeting with stakeholders, make a point to use terminology that resonates with them. While your team may live and breathe in a world of user-centered terminology, if your stakeholder needs convincing of its value, they likely don’t. Empathy is one of your best tools, so be sure to use it and frame your language in terms that matter to them.
Your primary goal is to articulate the connection between user feedback and the KPIs they’re concerned about right now. While the connections may seem crystal clear to you, not everyone will see them right away. In this situation, it’s important to assume positive intent.
For example, let’s say your stakeholder is focused on a metric related to sales, it’s important to tell a story using user feedback that shows how you will be able to influence sales. Sometimes you won’t be able to do this. And that’s ok.
What’s critical is that you balance your stakeholder’s needs with your end-users needs and continue to drive themes of user-centricity. You likely won’t get buy-in every single time, but if it starts happening more, that's a win.
Converting stakeholders who are nonbelievers
If this isn’t the first time that you’ve stated your case for user feedback, then you might feel like you’re at a loss.
A common challenge is that designers are well aware of the benefits of user feedback, so the evidence of its benefit is too obvious. That can make it hard to respond to objections. By understanding some of the preconceived ideas about user feedback (and qualitative data at large) you’ll be able to better defend your case.
3. Pair user feedback with analytics
Quantitative data and analytics have been used to inform design decisions within companies for many years. Some would even consider it the bedrock for decision-making. It’s easy to understand these quantitative performance metrics, tie them to ROI, and use them to define the way forward with clarity and focus.
Despite analytics being irresistible to many stakeholders, it really only explains what happened during an experience, not why it happened. In order to understand why things happen, you need to understand the emotion behind the data through user feedback. Next time you encounter a design challenge surfaced by data, aim to uncover the why behind it through user feedback.
Now that you’re equipped to convince stakeholders of the value of user feedback, it’s time to dive in.
How and when to collect user feedback
Most people wouldn’t dream of launching a design without first getting feedback from their peers. While getting feedback from your peers is better than not getting any feedback at all, getting feedback directly from your users is even better.
By now, you might be wondering when the best time is to collect user feedback. To put it simply, there’s never a bad time. But don't be overwhelmed. The opportunities are endless, and how you choose to prioritize is up to you.
We'll share a useful framework for understanding what feedback to collect from your users and when. At the end of this section, you should be able to understand how to uncover what users need and leverage those insights to create compelling products and experiences that meet those needs.
We should be clear, every organization will function a little differently depending on its size, industry, and things of the like, but the general principle remains the same: user feedback will differentiate good designs from bad ones.
In this section, we’ll breakdown collecting user feedback into three main categories:
Discover and explore
Learn how to understand the market, your target customer, and the high-level solution that meets their needs.
Test and learn
Learn the basics for validating concepts and testing solutions with wireframes and prototypes.
Learn the crucial steps necessary for building and launching your new product or experience.
Phase 1: discover and explore
Designing is fun. We don’t argue that, but diving straight into a design without collecting your user’s perspectives can lead you down a path of rework and missed expectations. An excellent designer’s job is more than hitting an experience with a pretty stick—it’s about meeting your user’s needs and exceeding them whenever possible. Before you even set out to build a new product or experience it’s important to understand the market, including your customer and competition.
At this moment, it’s important to start with generative research or a method of collecting user feedback that helps you develop a deeper understanding of your users in order to find opportunities for solutions and innovation.
To get the information you need, focus on uncovering answers to questions like the following:
- What do we know about our user and their needs/problems?
- What is the competition doing?
- What is the current state of a solution in the market?
- What do stakeholders expect?
Let’s look at some examples of people collecting user feedback as it pertains to ideation.
1. Ask people to record their everyday activities, behaviors, and thoughts to understand how they get things done and perceive the world they live in.
You don’t have the time to follow people around day in and day out. (At least most designers don’t.) In the video below, watch as a person shopping for a television in-store encounters a design problem. He notes that the price display is not as intuitive as he would have expected. This insight provides context into the customers’ shopping behaviors and habits that may help a designer define a problem they’d like to create a solution for.
2. Explore people’s attitudes, preferences, and opinions.
This often helps companies understand their target audience’s point of view so they can create better solutions and experiences. In the video below, a woman shopping for shoes describes how it’s extremely beneficial for her to see a picture of someone actually wearing the shoe. This information could be used by the DSW digital team to update their product pages.
When it comes to discovery, more is more. Collect as much information about your users, competitors, and market landscape as you can so you can move into designing a product with eyes wide open.
Phase 2: test and learn
Now you have all the feedback you need to build a high-level solution for a user problem. Don’t get ahead of yourself, that doesn’t mean it’s time to start designing. After all, you don’t really know if your concept or idea is what your users really want.
It’s time to define your concept and validate it with your users. This is often referred to as evaluation research or a tactic used for assessing a specific problem to ensure usability and ground it in wants, needs, and desires of real people. The goal here is to test your concept to see if it meets people’s needs, is easy to access and use, and is hopefully even enjoyable.
Once you have a concept—like a sketch on a napkin or an idea on a page—test it with your users to gauge their reaction.
To get the information you need, focus on uncovering answers to questions like the following:
- Does a design approach resonate?
- Do my users understand it?
- What features or functions are critical? Nice to have?
- How might you design a feature that’s needed?
Let’s pretend your concept is exactly what your users want. You’re ready to begin your iterative design process. Iterative, because as we said earlier, there’s never a wrong time to collect feedback and improve on your design.
To get the information you need from your prototype testing, you’ll need to uncover answers to questions like the following:
- What elements of a design approach work and don’t work?
- What can be improved about the design approach?
Phase 3: listen
You’ve had your fun now designing and testing concepts and prototypes. You’ve also determined that you’re meeting the needs of your users. So it’s time to build and launch your new product or experience. This is exciting, but the time for collecting user feedback is not over.
Once you’ve launched your product into the market, you’d be remiss not to continue following your users as they use it in their natural environment. The things you may uncover will be surprising and may even lead to room for improvement.
To get the information you need, focus on uncovering answers to questions like the following:
- How can the flow be improved?
- What areas of opportunity exist in the current experience?
- What are the pain points in the current experience?
Tips for analyzing user feedback
Gaining confidence in collecting user feedback effectively and at the right time is an important first step toward becoming a user-centric designer. However, one aspect of user feedback that’s often overlooked is the need for analyzing and synthesizing the data. And there’s a lot of data.
When it comes to user feedback, every word, pause, and nonverbal reaction is a data point that can help you build a better design for your user. But you can’t rely on your memory to inform effective design. Beyond that, you’ll likely need to share your findings in order to gain support for the decisions you’re proposing.
Here are some tips for organizing your data that will make incorporating insights gained from user feedback more manageable.
1. Document your observations
Whether you’re sifting through hours of usability videos, interviews, or any other type of feedback, you’ll want to create a tagging system that aligns with your objectives. Don’t be afraid to adjust and make changes as you go based on what you observe—just aim for consistency as much as you can.
Some useful tags to consider include:
- Mental models
- Task completions
- Pain points
- Emotional responses
You can keep track of these observations in a spreadsheet or whatever works best for you.
2. Develop unique categories of observation
Think of this as a similar step to the one before, but with a little more focus. Here you’ll want to group your observations in clusters that relate to one another. Here are some examples of observation clusters:
- How many users did a certain thing
- Assign severity: Minor, Moderate, Critical
- Identify individual quotes or clips that are representative of the whole
3. Organize into broader themes
Once you’ve made your observations and categorized them, it’s time to organize them into broad themes. Commonly, user feedback is digested through thematic analysis. During thematic analysis, you aim to make sense of all the notes, observations, and discoveries you’ve documented across all your information sources, by creating themes to organize the information and build throughlines across every individual idea.
This can be done in a number of ways, but the goal is to identify areas of insight that can be transformed into opportunities for design. One popular method for synthesizing findings is affinity mapping.
Check out UserTesting’s affinity diagram template via InVision.
Once you’ve organized your feedback, you’ll be better able to identify areas that need to be addressed and have all the proof points you need for presenting (and justifying) your next steps.
Tips for presenting user feedback
If you belong to an organization that doesn’t fully understand the value of user feedback, that limits your ability to influence decisions with it.
Mike MaceVice President, Market Research, UserTesting
If you want people to value what you're doing, you need to be able to tie it to the issues that they care about most.
When sharing user feedback with others—including stakeholders—make sure you think like a decision-making partner and employ empathy at every turn. Whether you’re overcoming buy-in or presenting your feedback for the first time, here are some strategies to consider when presenting user feedback to stakeholders.
1. Remind people why they’re in the room
Take a minute to set the stage, but keep it to about a minute. Everyone’s busy—it’s not just a myth. Call out who you worked with, what the goal of the project is, and what you’re going to show them right off the bat.
Also, remind them what you need—whether that be feedback, approval, funding, etc.
2. Build out a scenario you can speak to
Sometimes what’s obvious to you, isn’t always obvious to a stakeholder. You’re in the trenches every day, and most likely know the customer journey better than anybody else. Stories resonate, so if your project was a massive overhaul informed by a lot of usability testing, share a customer example of what you saw that inspired the changes.
3. Highlight your intimate knowledge of your user
The secret to success for any strong, user-centric design is knowing that you are not your user. With this in mind, talk about the people you're designing for and how you collected input from them in order to make your design decisions. A great way of resolving design disputes is by explaining how your decisions were based on opinions other than your own.
4. Be flexible and ready to answer questions
It’s not uncommon for stakeholders to ask you to jump back or fast forward through your presentation to a particular section. All the while, you’ll be receiving questions that may feel like an interruption. Be flexible, and roll with the punches. If necessary, be ready to defer some questions to others in the room who may have more expertise than you.
5. Rehearse, and rehearse again
Before presenting, it’s smart to do a dry run in front of a peer who will be honest and provide constructive feedback. Try to find someone who has had success sharing user feedback or giving presentations, and following through on a project to completion. Ask for very pointed feedback, including if your message is clear, you summarize well, and if you’re missing anything.
6. Provide a summary and next steps
Now that you’ve shown how user feedback has guided you to a problem and you’ve put together a solution that you feel confident in trying out, present a summary of what you discussed and walk them through the next steps. Explain how you plan to measure success, continue to collect feedback, and meet key milestones.
At the end of the day, you won’t be able to collect user feedback every time you hope to. Nonetheless, have an idea for how you plan to grow and flex your user feedback muscle inside your organization. It might start by simply meeting your deadlines—incorporating user feedback when it wasn’t asked for. The more you show the value of user feedback the better.
Becoming customer-obsessed doesn’t happen overnight. Take this as a personal challenge to change the way your organization thinks about approaching problems and designing solutions that meet them. If you’re able to make incremental changes to your design process that’s a major win that won’t go unnoticed.