The term “feedback” is coming close to finding itself in clichéd business word category (along with personal favorites “synergy” and “paradigm”). Even if for you the word itself isn’t necessarily something that you expect to see in a Dilbert cartoon, the thought of what feedback entails can be unpleasant. For many it conjures up visions of clueless coworkers asking you to add animated .gifs and flashing purple buttons to a page, or of a client submitting a list of 82 new items to create on their site even though you are on the ninth round of changes. If nothing else, getting feedback stinks because it’s more (usually boring) work for you, and let’s face it, you’d rather be doing something else.
But you need some feedback. So, here’s the question: how can you keep from having to waste hours upon hours getting feedback from largely unhelpful sources, while still making sure that what you are creating actually makes sense, looks good, and doesn’t end your career?
Here are a few strategies for getting feedback as well as some tools that have been proven to help web designers simplify the feedback process:
Community Driven Feedback
Imagine walking into a big room of graphic and web design professionals (much like yourself). These folks are smart and on top of their respective games (again, much like yourself). Now imagine standing up in front of all of them, showing them your latest work, and then asking for feedback. While there is the potential to get some great input on what you’ve created, the whole process would likely be highly disorganized and nerve-wracking. Fortunately there are some tools that get pretty close to the benefits of standing up in front of a roomful of like-minded professionals, without any of the disorganization or (as much) potential humiliation.
Concept Feedback is a web based community of graphic and web designers that give input on submissions of each other’s work. Anyone can join and post their own “concept” and get advice on how to improve their work from the user community through the site’s innovative rating tools (while in turn giving your own advice on other people’s work). In addition to getting feedback from the thousands of users on the site, you can also receive feedback from smaller panels of industry experts hand-selected by the Concept Feedback staff. Finally, the site also offers tools so that you can privately share and receive feedback from your clients and team.
One less comprehensive yet innovative take on community driven feedback is Five Second Test. It’s just like it sounds- users look at your site for five seconds and then report back on their first impressions of your work. While you aren’t going to get in-depth existential analysis of what you’ve created, you will be getting input akin to what actual site visitors will be thinking when they visit your site in the future.
In-Person User Testing
While online community driven feedback is great for getting a whole lot of different input in a short amount of time, there are other methods that can help you get more detailed and personalized responses to your work. These methods are also helpful for getting feedback from people outside the web and graphic design world (people that, while clueless about the specifics of your field, are nonetheless buying the junk that your site is selling or logo is promoting, which in turn is providing you with the income you need to keep going to Comic-Con year after year). These methods are also good for getting the interweb proletariat to explain what they actually mean when they make statements like “I hate that logo” or “This page needs to be more, um, you know, snappy.”
In-person user testing is as simple as sitting someone down in front of a computer with you and having them browse your site or look at your designs. There aren’t any hard and fast rules for in-person testing, but it is very important that you have the right people doing this work: each tester should be selected and their opinions weighted based on how well they fit in to your target audience. Another important thing to do with in-person testers is to ask questions. Getting testers to explain their criticisms will not only get you beyond simple yes/no responses, but their elaboration will probably let you know quickly whether or not to trust the user’s feedback.
One tool that can help you with in-person (or remote) user testing is screen recording software Morae from TechSmith. In addition to capturing all on-screen activity, Morae can also record audio and video of your tester while they browse. Screencasts and the accompanying audio are easily shared with co-workers or clients via YouTube, Quicktime, or Windows Media.
Remote User Testing
If you don’t have the time to have testers sit down with you in person to give you feedback (or if your office happens to be your bedroom, complete with Green Lantern posters and seven month old Filet-o-Fish packages), remote user testing might be a better option. The principle is basically the same as in-person testing, and with the right screen sharing and recording software you can do your own testing with your own users. However, there are some great tools out there that can keep you from having to hunt down new testers and provide you with more useful info than you could obtain by yourself.
UserTesting.com provides you with screen and audio recordings of their testers interacting with your site. You can start seeing testing results in as little as one hour, and you can request users that meet your target demographics. The per-user testing cost isn’t cheap ($39 per user), but you get helpful, comprehensive feedback fast with no hassle on your part.
If you want to better understand how website users are seeing and comprehending your site, utilizing the eye tracking features of GazeHawk might be a good move. You simply provide GazeHawk with a URL and they use some fancy webcam trickery to track what test visitors are drawn to on your page. The result of the test is a heatmap that is easy to understand and would make Predator jealous. This tool is especially helpful for landing pages.
Polls and Surveys
The nice thing about user testing is that you get a personal response quickly; you usually come away with some type of helpful information about your work, even if it is something simple. However, there is no replacement for hard data collected over an extended period of time. And even if polls and surveys and the cool charts and graphs they produce aren’t your thing, they are sure to impress clients and give weight to your brilliant suggestions.
While pop-ups that ask “Do you have time to tell us about your experience on this site?” translates for some people into “Can we ask you some boring questions for 5 minutes and give you nothing in return?”, there are indeed others that actually click “Yes” on those things. And believe it or not, they actually can provide some helpful information. Three providers of useful on-site polls and surveys are KISSinsights, Kampyle, and PollDaddy.
In my experience I’ve found that the amount and quality of feedback from your site’s users improves if they can expect something in return. Try offering a 10% off coupon code or entry in a drawing for a gift card in exchange for a completed survey. Not only will you get larger amounts of better feedback, but you very well could increase sales or submissions of prospect contact info.
As frustrating, time consuming, and expensive as obtaining quality feedback can be, doing so should be a standard step in the design process for all web and graphic designers. All it takes is a couple of simple mistakes to derail a project for an important client. A little time and money spent could very well save you embarrassment and angry clients. So what strategies and tools do you use for website feedback? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author
Aaron Griffith is part of the Concept Feedback team, a free website review community for designers, developers and marketers. You can learn more at Concept Feedback or follow the team on Twitter.