Freelance designers often have to take on more types of responsibilities than those of us who work as part of a larger design agency or design team. Freelance designers don’t always get the benefits of being able to delegate a portion of their design projects to another, or to lean on other individuals when it comes to administrative and managerial duties like invoicing/billing, project planning, taxes, sales, etc.
Because freelancers have so much on our plates, we need all the help we can get, regardless of where this help comes from, or what part of our creative process we can get it on.
Which is why, while generally helpful to all web professionals, feedback is very crucial to freelance workers in the web design industry.
One need not even be a freelance web designer to see and understand how much weight feedback carries in our work.
In this article, I’ll discuss my main reasons for why I think feedback matters so much to freelancers.
Feedback Makes You a Better Designer
Feedback gives us an avenue for sharpening our skills and honing our craft. When engage with the users we are building our designs for, we gain insights and viewpoints that help us improve our current and future products and services.
Many of us in the industry hand off a design, and then move on to our next contract without giving the previous one much of a second thought.
Out of sight and out of touch with the client, then certainly out of mind. However, is that really helping us move forward with our creative and professional abilities?
I can understand the view that once we have handed off our deliverables, technically and legally, our work is done.
But, to me, until a web design has real people using it, our duties aren’t complete yet. That final step of having real users interacting with our product is very important in allowing us to develop our skills further.
Once the design is actually in use, we can then garner important insights as to what we did well in the project. And what we didn’t.
We can harvest this valuable resource of information through the implementation of feedback-gathering tools, by reading comments on social media with the use of social media monitoring tools, teasing out trends indirectly via website analytics, and so on.
In addition to getting feedback from our users, we can also get feedback from our peers. Doing so also helps us improve our design work too.
Getting feedback from other designers in the industry isn’t difficult these days. There are many places to turn to, to get that to happen. From community sites like Dribbble to dedicated online critiquing sites and forums such as Please Critique Me and Reddit’s r/design_critiques subreddit (which has over 9,700 readers), we have a lot of opportunities in our grasps for obtaining peer-feedback on our work.
Feedback Keeps You Humble
Receiving feedback from our clients, our users, and our peers can be humbling. That’s a good thing.
Staying humble helps keep us on a dedicated and continual path towards improving and learning our craft with unending drive and passion.
If we become complacent with our creative processes, or if we start to believe that we have pretty much advanced to the top of the game, then we grow stagnant in our abilities and we stop pushing ourselves to innovate.
Idleness and passivity, being fine with the status quo, is dangerous ground to tread on for anyone in any professional field; but this is even more true in a competitive and fast-moving profession like the web design industry.
Feedback from our users does not pull any punches whatsoever. None at all. There is no sugar coating. Or any attempt at gently and politely giving feedback from a constructive place.
You will often get feedback from a user who is already frustrated about something in your web design that’s broken or that’s preventing them from getting the thing they want done.
That type of user feedback can brutal and raw, but what it is also, is that it is honest. It will contain things you need to hear about your work that other people in other situations will be too polite or too unconcerned to tell you.
True, this type of feedback I’m talking about will more than likely contain some things that you probably don’t need to hear too, but that’s where our work lies: In deconstructing feedback to draw out that which we need to take away from it.
Feedback Can Help with Your Business Process
Let me share a story with you, about how user-contributed feedback has helped my freelance design business.
After learning (in a particularly frustrating way) from a client of mine that trying to handle the domain registration and hosting setup for my clients can become a major headache, I ended up deciding to drop that service as part of my web design packages.
Dropping the service of registering my clients’ domain names and setting up their website’s hosting for them didn’t seem like a big deal at first.
However, you should also know that many of my clients are small businesses who have no employees or resources to route towards website administration and management.
So, initially, after this decision was made, we had a lot of problems because our clients were having a tough time with web hosting.
What would happen was they would be overwhelmed with how to find the right web hosting solution for their specific needs.
They would bargain basement shop on web hosting services — thinking that hosting companies were all equal and that the price was the most important distinguishing factor between them — without having a look at what people were saying about the web hosting service they would get. Which, as almost anyone with even basic experience in website administration can tell you, doesn’t always produce the best results.
Oftentimes, my clients would end up with a bad hosting solution on an oversold shared hosting service because all they could see was the price of the service, without knowing to consider the other factors that also matter in choosing web hosts, such as reliability, reputation, features like disk space and bandwidth, and so forth.
So I started directing my clients to helpful online resources like Web Hosting Geeks (a web hosting review site) to help them pick their web hosts.
Reading user-contributed feedback and reviews from other people gave my clients true, unbiased insights about the web hosting solutions they were considering.
Feedback in the form of reviews from actual people or third-party organizations is more reliable and impartial compared to reading about a web hosting company through the company’s own website and marketing team.
Think of how often we turn to user-contributed reviews these days for making purchasing decisions (e.g. via social commerce or our social networks). How many times have you ordered a product off Amazon or downloaded an app on your smartphone without first reading through what some of the existing customers have had to say about it?
I now have fewer clients having trouble with their web hosting because of user-contributed feedback.
User-generated feedback and reviews can relieve freelancers from some burdens in our business processes, and all we have to do is take advantage of them when we can.
Feedback Gives You a Different Perspective
The value in receiving feedback lies in its fundamental nature, which is that feedback comes through a different set of lenses.
Trying to see a design of ours without the tinted lens we lovingly tend to view them through is not easy to do.
Users, clients, friends, colleagues, and other people come to look at our designs with a unique set of lenses, and it’s those lenses that will expose the things we may be overlooking in our work.
Let me share another story with you. I once had a user contact me about a navigability issue he was having with a web design I created.
The feedback completely floored me.
Having developed the design, I couldn’t imagine anyone being unclear about how the site’s navigation worked.
But that was because I had put the whole design together, and I knew exactly what to expect and do to move around it. I made the design, and I made it in a way that made sense to me.
I forgot that other people would not be viewing the design through the same lens as I was.
That was a wake-up call.
I had failed to consider another person’s perspective, and it cost me more time to go back in and make the correction.
And that will happen. We will make those sorts of mistakes, and we will fail to consider other people’s perspectives at some point in our design process.
Listening to feedback from others effectively helps us avoid or remedy these types of situations.