You’re only as good as your feedback loops

2 month(s) ago

I'm not sure where the quote "You're only as good as your feedback loops" comes from, but it's something that's stuck with me for years and I really stand by it.

Regardless of what you do: design things, stack shelves, manage people, write code, play golf, sell ice-cream... if you have no feedback loops you'll never know if what you are doing is any good or even working at all.

We know how important feedback is in our design work, we make sure that states reflect actions and users know what is happening in our apps, but that's not what I want to talk about, I want to share some thoughts on feedback loops throughout the design process specifically and how I think they can level up designers really quickly if used properly.

the word feedback looping and animating in a cylinder shape

Feedback loops in design

We need feedback at every stage of the product design process.

It's important because if you don't use it wisely (or don't use it at all) you'll end up having to re-do work, working on the wrong problems, implementing sub-par solutions and ultimately not know if your design work has any real impact. You'll be guessing, and while I wish we had all the answers and knew exactly what to design every time - I can guarantee you, we don't.

There are some basic feedback loops that we all seek out through the process:

  • When we are defining our problem statement or outcomes we collaborate to make sure we align with the team and stakeholders, this makes sure we solve the right things out of the gate;

  • Working with our teams and engineers to get feedback on ideas or feasibility. This stops us from pursuing ideas that aren't technically possible and gives us some constraints that we need;

  • Putting ideas in front of users to make sure they understand them and we move forward with the best solutions and understand their actual needs, motivations, and goals;

  • Critiquing our ideas to make sure we refine it and produce high-quality work as well as get other eyeballs over the work so that we aren't working silos;

  • Validating our designs to make sure they achieve the goals we set out through data, a/b testing, or user feedback.

I think these same feedback loops should be applied to every part of our work though, from facilitating workshops to mentoring, from creating documentation to presenting - getting feedback is the best way you can improve and learn the most and ultimately be a better designer.

The best way I've found to gather feedback that's useful is to reach out to a few people who were involved in whatever you have been working on, directly and informally.

If you are facilitating workshops, this might be picking someone who was super engaged and someone who maybe didn't seem and reaching out to them directly for some informal feedback on what went well and what they didn't like (it doesn't have to be something formal like a post-workshop survey, informal methods like slack messages or random chats work even better).

I try to seek it out at every part of every project. When we went remote in March this year and had to adapt the way we worked really quickly and it became even more important to figure out what things worked and what didn't.

An important note to mention is that while the feedback you get from people you have built strong relationships with will be candid and is the easiest to get, be sure to reach out to people who may not have worked with you before or who you haven't formed those relationships with yet and get their input, this will make sure you don't fall into confirmation bias from friends and give you fresh perspectives on what you can improve on.

On the other side of the fence, I think we should be proactive in sharing feedback where we think it will be useful. So next time you are attending someone's presentation let them know what you loved and any constructive criticism - there doesn't have to be any criticism, even just sharing with them the feedback about the parts you love will go a long way for people knowing their strengths.

By doing this, you lead by example and start to distil a culture of feedback within your team, levelling everyone up.

I'm only as good as my feedback loops

I started blogging again recently as a way to get some clarity on my thinking and to improve my writing style, so I know it's rough around the edges. But I practice what I preach, and now I've got the Twitter username to match this domain @Grxnt - let me know if this post was helpful or if there was anything that wasn't clear that I could improve on.