Why You Should Get Feedback, Then Ignore Most of It


Feedback is a tricky thing to use properly. When you are building a new product, there is a tendency to veer off track every time someone throws out a new idea or feature. On the one hand, you have to listen your users, but on the other, you need to stay the course and make sure you get somewhere. Plus, other people don't know your industry and your business as well as you do, so you should have some confidence that you are on the right path and making the right decisions because you have good knowledge of the subject.

If feedback can have these kinds of problems, should you really ask for it? Yes. Here's why. When you look for feedback on a product, you are looking for one of two things:

1. An overwhelming majority consensus for a different path.

2. A tidbit of knowledge you didn't know.

When you ask for feedback on say, a website design, a business name, a business idea, or something similar, you will get people all over the map. Some will hate it, some will love it. In that case it's a wash. But if case #1 is true and everyone you talk to hates it, you should think long and hard about whether something is blinding you, or this is a special case where you see something they don't.

For case #2, take the example of real estate. Say you buy a plot of land and draft up a house that you are going to build on it. You show person after person and some love it, some don't. Ignore that. But if someone says "you know this used to be a toxic waste dump, right?" That's the kind of detailed knowledge you sometimes get from feedback.

So ask users what they think early, and often, but take it with a grain of salt. If you try to incorporate every suggestion someone makes, you will end up fighting an impossible battle.

  • In highly subjective areas like web design, colors, or copy why not split test and to see which has the best response.

  • Those are two good points, Rob. Let me add another.

    It’s important to pay attention to where the feedback is coming from. Some people have expertise or experience that should lead you to take their advice more seriously or to disregard it more quickly. Consider advice from Arthur C. Clarke.

    “If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

  • The biggest reason so much feedback is useless is that few people get any feedback on their feedback. I’ve started telling people when they are vague or so obvious as to be useless (in a nice way of course). Personally I would ask direct questions about site design. I would watch reactions and comprehension.

  • Sorry… I meant I “wouldn’t” ask direct questions about site design.

  • Finally – someone talking sense! Yes, in general, surveys and opinions aren’t much use. You’d really have to narrow down your test group for it to be of any great consequence. Even then, you can’t guess at what motivates the respondent.

  • Rob,

    Those are, indeed, the two good reasons to get feedback.

    In matters of design and anything considered “art”, it might be good to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    So following up with questions that target usability vs.only “what’s attractive” could be a worthwhile move.