Thursday, 19 January 2006

The importance of feedback

I'm still in the middle of reading The Psychology of Everyday Things. Most people (by that I mean people who caught me with the book in hand) seems to think that this is a difficult read or something for academicians. But honestly I must say that this is book is for everyone who appreciates design or have struggled with using a poorly designed product at any point in their lives.

The best thing about this book is inclusion of everyday examples by the author. He uses them to show readers what are the concepts of good design and why they matter. And the writing style is rather laidback and conversational, which something that I think would make the book accessible to most people.

One of the concepts the author talks about in the book is feedback. For someone like me, coming from a computing background, feedback is something we're very concerned with.

What is feedback anyway? In simple terms, it is the response from the product you are using. This response is the sending back of information to the user of what action has been taken and whether it is correct or not. For example, when we're copying big files in Windows, a progress meter will pop up and show us the percentage of the completed copying. This is an example of feedback in software.

In real life, feedback can be observed everywhere. One common example is the balance of needed payment displayed on drinks vending machines. It shows how much we've already paid and how much more is needed. The machine also tells us which drinks are available and which ones have run out of.

Pressed the button but nothing happen

You fiddle through your MP3 portable player (a poorly designed one, for the sake of discussion) to find your favourite playlist. You followed what the manual mentioned. And yet, you are unable to find it. Plus, there isn't any clue to lead you closer to it.

A good feedback design should tell you where you are now, what are the effect of your previous action and what should you do next (find playlist? create new playlist? upload playlist?). A user always wants to know where they are and what should they do next.

After some time the battery would run out of power and you need to charge it. But, to the your shock, there no indicator of the battery charge progress. Only a small light by the device's side that lights up when the charging starts. According the manual, the light should change colour from red to green once the charging is complete. Other than that there is no visible way to tell the progess of the charging.

The point of bringing this up is highlight the important of feedback in design as well as in communicating with others. Usually we are not fully aware of the situation we are in. We may at best have a good idea of what's going on but unless we're a psychic or something we would never know what's going on in other people's minds.

This is why feedback is important. It helps remove assumptions, misconceptions or any other forms of comunication gaps. It makes using a product a positive experience. It shows that a lot of thought and consideration for the user has been taken by the designer. It shows that you, as the designer, care about the users and that their satisfaction matters to you. And this can make all the difference.

In communications, feedback fasilitates better understanding of the things needed to be done. A boss who gives specific and objective feedback to his subordinates can the subordinate understand what is needed from him or her. Ambigious feedbacks, on the other hand, not only frustrates but also contribute to further communication breakdowns. It's better to hear "you're not properly following the standard way of preparing a report" than "what's this I don't want it please take this piece of garbage away and give me a real report."

To sum up, we all need to learn the importance of giving (and receiving) good feedbacks. With that said, I would like to hear your feedback on this topic. Since I'm not a psychic or something.


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