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How to Find a Devil's Advocate

Don't you sometimes just want someone to give it to you straight? The search for truth is often problematic and the search for good feedback can be just as vexing. There is as much an art to getting feedback as there is to giving it.

First, you need to solicit it—meaning ask for it. Many people don't realize you want feedback until you ask for it.

But you can't just ask, "What do you think?" In order for feedback to be helpful it has to be specific. Someone saying they hate your website is not helpful. What does that comment tell you exactly? Does it tell you that the marketing copy is confusing or not clear enough about the value to users? Does it mean the colors are hard to see by men? Generalizations are never good and so when someone gives you one, it's important to follow up with, "Can you be more specific?"

Next, you have to understand who you are asking for feedback from and their relationship to you. Even if you ask for specific feedback there are some people who won't or will not be able to give it to you for various reasons—usually having to do with their relationship to you. They could be friends with absolutely no time or interest in assessing your creation. Those people might be better Rah! Rah! folks—people you go to for cheerleading or support. Other folks may have more critical eyes but they're designers and only feel qualified to opine on design. Choose who you ask for feedback from, accordingly and carefully.

Finally, how you react to feedback is a large part of whether people will feel comfortable giving you feedback. If you get defensive or start explaining your choices right away when someone shares their feedback, you are likely to see less of it. If you find you are having a difficult time receiving feedback then you need to build in space, time or systems to help you manage feedback. For example, you might ask for specific feedback via an anonymous online survey or in writing that you can take away and process on your own.

In any case, it's helpful to remember feedback is a gift—no matter how poorly given.

Give Alicia some feedback at