Getting User Feedback – A Crash Course

Your client has just asked for user feedback on a new feature! This is fantastic news; the world is your oyster to go get unfiltered opinions straight from the end user. But then anxiety starts to kick in: Gulp, this is an enormous endeavor. You’ll need to define objectives, recruit the right participants, ask the right questions, and get clear answers. Where do you even begin?

When user feedback is needed, whether it is on content, visuals, usability or something else, the task has to be approached with careful diligence. There are several moments where a single (seemingly tiny) oversight can botch the entire operation. Much like designing a website though, there is a systematic phased approach you can take. And within each phase, there is one consistent step to follow: Always remember to stick to the objectives.

Below are a set of principles, broken down by phase, which you should follow to ensure that you are fulfilling your client’s business needs, while not exhausting end-users.


Discovery Phase


Lock down the objectives

Having a concrete grasp on what you want to uncover is the critical first step which will drive all other action items. And, unfortunately, you won’t be able to uncover everything. Start by talking to stakeholders, and don’t be shy to throw out some wish list items yourself. Record any and all things you want user input on no matter how specific they may seem. It’s best to start with more and whittle down than to be too restrictive up front. Next up, gather your questions, organize them into larger topics, and prioritize these topics. Typically, it’s best to have a maximum of 3 topics about which you are trying to gain insights. Create a research brief listing your high-level objectives, and get approval from all parties involved. Getting everyone on the same page from the get-go is of the utmost importance.

Identify the audience before you select your research method

With your objectives in the bag, you should have a general understanding of who will give you the answers you need. Knowing the user type and the volume of users should then determine the feedback method you want to pursue. The objectives should always define the methods – never the other way around. Methods could include, but are not limited to: in-site intercept surveys, email blast surveys, and focus groups. Start with grand aspirations! Find the ideal tactic that works best for your needs and then identify the practical challenges of going forward with said tactic. You will find that by previously aligning as a team around objectives, it will make getting approval for the right method much easier.

Understand current behavior upfront

Do your homework before you go out in the field. Leverage as much data as you have about your audience before you decide what you need to get feedback on. Cross-check your objectives against analytics, previous user research, industry trends, and any other resource that will prevent you from asking questions that have already been answered.

Define hypotheses

Another way to make sure you effectively hit your objectives is to predict what users will say ahead of time. Refine your discussion guide, stimuli, survey, or other materials to prove or disprove your assumptions.

When you ultimately present findings back to the client, compare and contrast what you expected users to say or do with what actually happened. This is a very effective way of communicating insights you uncovered through your research.


UX Strategy Phase


Timing is everything

The key to getting great feedback is engaged users. And let’s face it: Users are willing to give feedback…up to a certain point. While this period of time may vary by person or topic, don’t underestimate how quickly fatigue and annoyance inevitably come into the picture. The last thing you want is a grumpy user giving you feedback. How do you avoid this? Respect their time.

Before going live, always:

  • Keep your questions short! Only ask questions that are on-topic to your pre-defined objectives.
  • Be transparent about how much of their time you will need.
  • Offer progress indicators or other reminders that there is an end in sight.
  • If scheduled, offer times that work best for them.
  • If unscheduled, request feedback at the right moment so as not to interfere with what they are originally trying to achieve.
  • If they are investing a lot of time or going out of their way to help, reward them.
  • Don’t bombard users with multiple surveys; use this golden opportunity wisely!

Make it fun  

By getting feedback from users, you are asking for their help (and again, their time). Alleviate as much of the “work” as possible by finding opportunities to cut out dry Q&A dialogue. Introduce interactive exercises such as ranking, rating, or prototype-exploring to both lighten the mood and elicit stronger, more emotional feedback. Look back at your script and see how much of your dialogue you can replace with action-based tactics.

Work out the kinks before you go live

User test your user test. Rehearse your feedback script with three people who are unfamiliar with what you are doing. You will be surprised how some things you thought were logical make little to no sense to someone not married to the material. Before going live, confirm that all business jargon, ambiguity, and misleading questions do not make it through to the final question list.


Execution Phase


Design only as much as you need to hit your objectives

Creating your feedback materials will vastly differ depending on your overall objectives and research method. However, one mantra should persist: Don’t overdo it! When you are asking users for feedback, you are acknowledging to the user that this is a work in-progress. This shared knowledge allows for an affordance in terms of how “perfect” it needs to look. And I have found that, in most cases, when a prototype is not fully functioning, participants are more willing to open up about ways to improve it given its current state.

Be creative around what tools you use to gather feedback data

There are many different types of software that can collect user insights and each has its own pros and cons that may or may not affect your situation. Unless your client has a licensed account with a specific survey, always research and weigh your options. How do price, functionality, data storage, and appearance impact your research objectives (and budget)?


Presentation Phase


Circle back to the objectives

Unless they were actively observing feedback collection in real-time, your client is in the same position as where you left them in the Discovery Phase: curious to see how those prioritized objectives will pan out. When presenting findings, use your objectives as a foundation on which to share all takeaways. If there were additional (non earth-shattering) insights outside of what is top-of-mind, de-prioritize them to the appendix of your presentation.


Respect stakeholders’ time

Much like users, stakeholders have busy schedules with other things waiting in their queue. Find ways to respect their time, such as:

  • Clearly list your topline findings in an executive summary.
  • Send out your findings deck ahead of your presentation.
  • Anticipate questions and account for these in your deck.
  • Have a clear perspective of the actionable next steps based off of what you learned from users.

Kindly thank everyone for allowing you to talk to users

Never take for granted access to the rich resource that is the end-user! And pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Have questions, reactions or anything else you’d like to talk through? Email me directly at and let’s talk!

Categories: Experience Design, Visual Design
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