The difference between the needs of the user and stakeholder opinions and how feedback can affect a project

When it comes to redesigning a flagship website, a prospectus, or virtually anything that requires design input, there is a 99% chance that the client will have an opinion and thoughts to feedback (rightly so, they are paying for it). Feedback on anything that has been designed can be a good thing but can also be very, VERY dangerous.

At SMILE, we are yet to identify a feedback cycle that works for all of our clients, so the way we gather feedback varies from project to project. Whether it’s on a video call, via a spreadsheet or even a Google form for the client to fill in, we want to be sure we’re hearing what our client has to say about our work.

In the design process, we follow brand guidelines where possible, make smart decisions about design and do our best to match the client’s taste — but not at the cost of the users’ needs!

As we move into the feedback cycle, we begin to gather opinions from our liaising stakeholders and, in most cases, the feedback is useful. Opinions that come from a marketing or development perspective help us consider the designs through a different lens. The client is closer to the work their institution does, so it’s easier for them to comment on whether something will work with what they’re aiming to do.

The danger comes when people fail to see the end goal of design work: to meet user needs. Design can be very subjective and everyone’s taste is unique, so it can be difficult to see past a visual that you may not be the biggest fan of and take someone else’s needs into consideration. But when opinions take precedence over user needs it often leads to a final product that is not fit for purpose and must be reworked later (which comes at a greater cost to the client).

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Delays in feedback can also be a game-changer in a project. It can be difficult for people to fit reviewing designs into their already busy schedules. Getting everyone in the same room, virtually or in person, to review design work can be quite a challenge, especially in the current climate with so many of us restricted by COVID-19 guidelines.

The show must go on, however! We schedule feedback cycles relatively early in a project, so feedback delays lead to work being pushed back further and further, often meaning a later release date. This can cause a chain of issues as there is only a certain window in which it’s a viable option to make big website changes. As project timelines get pushed out because of feedback delays, essential activities like user testing also shift or get cut out of the project plan, making it even easier for user needs to fall to the wayside in favour of opinions.

So, moving forward, think about your target user and have them in your mind at all times while giving feedback. Be constructive, offer your opinion, but also don’t disregard points when you’re presented with a rationale for why certain decisions were made. Timely and focused feedback is critical to building a website that works for users, satisfies stakeholders and is delivered on schedule.

Elliott Barnicle
Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer