The Value of Accepting Feedback and Addressing Criticism

Accepting criticism can be a bitter pill to swallow. While you can’t guarantee that all criticism is valid. When you start seeing recurring patterns in user feedback, it’s time to take a more serious look at your product.

In any case, all criticism has a root cause – it’s just a matter of what, or who, is responsible. Then, if possible, follow up on that feedback accordingly. This blog will go into detail of why criticism is important to take onboard in any creative medium.

The Yes-man is no good

Let’s start with a little exercise to emphasize the alternative of neglecting criticism. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say no one ever provided criticism. In this alternate dimension, the act of looking at something with a critical eye is unheard of. In June 1875, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; an incredible new technology at the time. But in a world not willing to critique, no one can comprehend a way to improve such an invention, it has seemingly attained perfection.

How do you suppose that the typical Telephone would look or function in the next few years, 10 years, 100 years even. I’d wager it would still be very similar, in this weird alternate dimension at least. Your competitors would be entangled in an endless spiral of patent infringements, as they keep pumping out the same identical designs. Even your competitors believe this to be the peak.

Innovation for Innovation’s sake

Market research and testing are both forms of critique and feedback. The difference is that they take place at different points in the development cycle. Removing these two, equally important stages of the cycle means jumping into a market blind as a bat. If we brute force ourselves to ‘innovate’, our tweaks and adjustments would be baseless and arbitrary. Rushing to market by ripping out entire steps of the cycle will only waste time and resources

Fingers in ears

Let’s say we’re back in our normal, critical thinking reality. We have a little company that’s released a product, and has received some criticism. But their response… was to ignore it!

The problem will not only continue to exist, but may likely grow far worse. Product faults, incompatibility are the least of your problems now. You should express that you are, at the very least, listening to them. Fail to do so, and your feedback could take an ugly turn. Their experience with the product can shift focus to the company’s attitude.

We’ve dug through countless crowdfunding campaigns, research how campaigns have played out. More importantly, how backers and outside observers react. Without a doubt, one of the absolute worst things you can do is ignore your consumers. Good feedback, bad, whichever you’re getting – radio silence is a bad look.

Now it’s personal

Small start-ups and one-man projects have a tendency to form an emotional attachment with a design concept. This could be misconstrued with confidence and determination. But it can cloud your vision to make rational decisions in the face of feedback. If your line of work is more about aesthetics than function (Graphics or Brand Designer), then you’re more prone to widely spread feedback. Art is subjective, it’s intrinsically associated with our thoughts and imagination. The nature of Art & Design makes it easy to produce something one-of-a-kind. So emotional attachment to our ideas and concepts begins to grow.

This should go without saying, but your real customers will not see your product in the same light. Their standards (and their patience) will vary. If they’ve paid for your merchandise, then all the more reason to scrutinise the product.

Designing for the customers, rather than the developer

Let’s touch on this topic, since this can go far deeper if you wanted. As a designer of a product or service, you’ve likely seen the innards of your work. So you should know exactly how it’s meant to be used.

Let’s think about the basics of product design: ease of use, accessibility, readability. The developers may have a tough time given unbiased feedback. It’s important to listen to criticism from people who have no incentive or reason to ‘forgive and forget’, per se. Family & friends are also a slippery slope to get true feedback from either, you need someone who has no incentive to ‘spare your feelings’. Family and friends won’t necessarily line up with your target demographic either. Even if they provide insightful feedback, you could run into blind spots, issues that will affect your target demographic specifically. Consider starting up an open / closed Beta launch to target people that fit your target audience as best as possible. You’ll be getting that vital first-time exposure response to your design, because they best represent the actual consumers.

This can’t be understated, we are exposed to the fruits of good design constantly throughout our daily lives. A lot of common design has been established for so long that we don’t think about it. But you’ll notice when it’s neglected, not getting a second opinion can lead to idiotic decisions. 

Criticism makes for Healthy Competition

Criticism and feedback plays a role in competition, it helps to pave the way to cutting-edge innovation and iteration. Competition is important in business, it’s within the consumers interests to have access to better technology and service.

The complete lack of competition means a Monopoly, and just like the board game, the endgame looks about the same every time. Having a monopoly means that the trade of a particular product or service is supplied by one body. They are not being contested in their respective market, and neither is their pricing. Lack of competitive pricing is particularly bad for the consumers wallet, if they truly have no alternative.

False Advertising

Have you ever received complaints about something that your product was never designed to do at all? While it may seem undeserved and harsh at first, there may be a reason for the outcry.

Let’s say you buy a fridge, but inside the box is a toaster. That toaster may be one of the best quality toasters on the market with some incredibly enticing marketing (for a fridge, that is). But it doesn’t matter, it’s not what you asked for. (Obviously my example is a bit extreme). But take this ‘wrong product’ situation and replace it with something more believable. ‘inaccurate specifications’, ‘missing features’, ‘incompatible’, any statements that are objectively wrong. You must avoid any inaccuracies or deception in your marketing. Not doing so could breach ‘Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations‘ and land you in hot legal water.

Backseat Critic

It’s a lot easier to take onboard and understand criticism when it isn’t levelled at your own work. Your own ideas and innovations are worthwhile, but you can further develop them by learning about your customers. What they expected, appreciated or were missing from previous solutions on the market. By learning what customers are already experiencing, you can address common issues earlier.

If you have a USP (Unique selling point) in mind, you’ll need evidence to justify the existence of that issue. Once you know for a fact that there is an audience affected by this, then you can work on the solution. To summarise, this is where we conduct ‘Product Validation’ research to justify the existence of a new product / service.

Don’t light that fuse – the Review bomb

This kind of criticism can take a dark turn, no bad deed goes unpunished. Review bombing, the act of en masse consistent negative comments, reviews and feedback, targeted at a product or service. This can be triggered by the actions of the company as a whole. Reasons such as work ethic, socioeconomic, prejudice or even political reasons. Regardless of the cause, review bombing can harm a product’s perception and brand reputation as a whole. A bigger company might be able to write it off as “A vocal minority”. But if you’re in a position to do so, it’s best not to upset your customers or employees to begin with. It takes time and dedication to build up trust with your clients – don’t compromise it for selfish reasons. In more serious cases, bad karma can lead to boycotts, strikes, hackers, DOS attacks and piracy.

What should I do?

Some readers may be thinking that criticism is about shutting down ideas wholesale. By no means, am I suggesting you should abandon ideas and concepts before they get a chance. Instead, you should look into feasibility, necessity, and demand. Whatever it takes to justify the time and resources needed. Criticism exists to improve and iterate on past actions. Accept our past mistakes and get motivated for success.

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid harsh feedback is to go in prepared and informed. Putting your new ideas and concepts through a process we call ‘Product Validation’. You can learn more about it here