User feedback is a crucial, and often overlooked, element of website design. As a web designer, your goal is to create a useful and pleasant experience for as many users as possible. While you can follow some basic design guidelines determined by both your education and your experience, it’s impossible to fully understand the impact of every design choice before you make it.
Shifting perspective that way simply isn’t that easy. As a developer, you fully understand the goals and context of your website in a way that users simply can’t. Trying to pretend you don’t have all that contextual information is unlikely to be successful. That’s why we need to talk to our users. As designers, we need to figure out what they think about our decisions, and determine how to make our websites easier to use and more functional.
User feedback is especially important for websites that users visit to accomplish a specific goal. If a user visits your site to find their credit score, for example, is that a goal they can accomplish with minimal strain? From your perspective, of course. But, as a web-savvy individual with an inherent understanding of the site’s framework and compromises, that’s a no-brainer. What if an inexperienced web user access your site? Would they have an easy time? What if they have a screenreader? Can people with limited vision easily use your site? While we can guess at the answers to these questions, such guesses are no substitute for user feedback.
Ask any experienced designer, and they’ll tell you that user feedback is often surprising. While you can sometimes anticipate (and therefore design around) issues that users will encounter in your site, user feedback will often present a cadre of users that struggled with something you thought was a solved problem.
For example, maybe a whole set of users couldn’t find the login function because it’s in a slightly unusual location, or the text color is too similar to the background. It’s likely that, without collecting user feedback, you wouldn’t have realized that.
User feedback can often help you optimize your site more effectively. It tells you what to focus on first to improve the user experience. If you rank the issues that users have with your site in order of popularity, that’s an effective punchlist for improving your site’s usability and, hopefully, your visitors’ happiness and ease of use.
What’s the best way to collect user feedback?
Collecting user feedback successfully is an art in itself. Often, it’s about reaching out to a broad base of users. You want to avoid simply asking your most frequent users: they’ve already internalized your site’s design decisions, and they might have trouble remembering what was difficult about the site at first. Of course, they still have extremely valuable input, but they shouldn’t be your only sample.
That means you need to get inexperienced users to use the site. Sometimes, this means running a focus group with truly naive users to get a better sense of how they experience the site. This can be expensive and time consuming, but nothing is so effective at collecting user feedback.
If you want to collect user feedback from known users, reaching out to all active accounts, or everyone on your email marketing list, is a great place to start. You’ll need to build a form for them to fill out, with carefully crafted questions that offer a mixture of ways to answer. Without a functional form, accessing your carefully collected data will be a real nightmare. Form building sites like 123ContactForm.com are a great option for cleanly and easily collecting user feedback data.
What kinds of questions should you ask?
Make sure you give users the opportunity to be open-ended. Don’t box them in with binary answers to non-binary situations. While Likert Scale questions make great survey material, they’re not as helpful for user feedback. They only allow the user to answer questions about issues you’ve already imagined. This means you won’t get those surprising responses that make user feedback so valuable. If you do use Likert Scale or “agree/disagree” questions in your form, make sure you’re supplementing with opportunities for free text response.
Give users a chance to vent a little. You might even need to encourage them a bit. People are hesitant to appear rude, so they might need a little prodding before they’ll be completely candid. Make sure you’re encouraging users to be honest and forthright, or your feedback might be too vague to be useful.
Start general and give users the opportunity to explain their unique experiences. Questions like the following are valuable:
How did you learn about our product? Why did you decide to use our product?
What were your goals when you started using our product? Did our product meet your expectations related to these goals?
What are the most frequent tasks you do using our product for? Explain how you do these tasks, step by step.
In addition to general queries, ask specific questions about suspected trouble spots. When you need to ask pointed questions, use something like the following:
- What could we improve about the login process?
- Is text on the website easy to read?
- Is it easy to use the website on your preferred device?
While collecting user feedback can be a tedious and even upsetting process, it’s crucial to any website’s growth and continued success. No matter what your goals, make sure that collecting user feedback is an important step in your workflow. Without user feedback, you’ll be guessing blindly about the most effective way to design and modify your site. After all, it’s the user’s experience, not yours, that will determine how successful your website is.