We turned Forrst upside-down, and by doing so, we learned a lot about how designers and developers learn. To be honest, it's been a bumpy ride figuring things out, but we're excited to apply the lessons we've learned to make Forrst a whole new experience. Read on.
Feedback Can Really Suck Bad
Let's be straight about this, it's hard to ask for feedback. You're admitting you don't have the right answer and exposing yourself to personal criticism or more work. This is why knowledge work is so much harder to win then something like a baseball game. In baseball, you know who won- you just look at the score (or ask Siri). In knowledge work you have to decide how much you want to win, and then ask for that much feedback.
We like to win at ZURB - world domination is in our manifesto. We also believe that you win at Product Design through feedback. We've written about feedback a lot over the last couple years, from a comprehensive feedback guide, a four hour class, a blog post with through feedback, toNotable, an entire application for giving contextual design feedback.
Over the last year we've learned even more from Forrst, mostly around the importance of investment and context. Looking at these points most of them seems obvious in hindsight, and in our experience that's a pretty good indicator that we're on to something.
You Are Less Receptive to Feedback from People You Are Not Accountable To
After adopting Forrst we implemented a feature that allows you to post iterations on your work. The thinking was that you could reward the people that gave you feedback by posting an iteration on the work incorporating the feedback.
We found that even when people got great feedback, and validated it in the comments as good feedback, they still didn't post an iteration. Maybe they didn't agree with the feedback and were just being nice. Maybe the feedback was spot on, but didn't align with the goals of the person doing the work. In any case, not posting an iteration makes it look like the feedback was just ignored, and didn't create any momentum with the people giving the good feedback.
The problem was the people asking for feedback were not accountable to the ones giving the feedback. In a work environment, if you ask someone to review my work, and then just ignore everything they say, there is going to be a consequence of some sort. In an online community like Forrst, you don't have that pressure, reducing the quality of the iteration (or lack of) which makes people less likely to continue giving good in depth feedback.
Feedback Requires Context
Giving good design feedback requires understanding the goals. Something as simple as a logo exploration may have context from simple things like looking good on a gym bag, to a more nuanced context like not being a departure from the current creative direction.
You've gotta be pretty invested to wrap your head around all these design details. Not only that, but the person presenting the work has to provide all these details to you. Either summarized with the presentation of work, or as links (requiring even more investment to get up to speed).
As a team here at ZURB, we've overcome this through our design process and small teams. When we present work we explain where we are in the design process and what method we are using to get the result. There is enough of a shared understanding of the process and methods to build some context. We also keep the same designers through an entire project to keep as much context as possible.
Hobby Work Lacks Clear Goals
A lot of the work posted on Forrst was hobby work. Given that Forrst was a public community, people were not able to share the professional work they were doing, either because they were not allowed to, or it was too much overhead to get permission. Hobby work is a great place to experiment, but experimentation is a goal that makes it very difficult to give helpful feedback.
A lot of the feedback we saw on hobby work was vague. What specifically can you say about an illustration of a rabbit in a space helmet with no explanation?
We Wanted Forrst to be an Awesome Place to Get Design Feedback
When we adopted Forrst we wanted it to be the place where you could get feedback on your work from an active community of product designers. We found the following to be the biggest barriers to getting there, both for us here at ZURB, and people in the general community:
- Can't post private work - Client work is where our designers spend most of our time, and we can't post it publicly.
- Lack of context - If you're not part of the project you don't have all the context of the goals and constraints.
- Heavy time investment for compelling presentations - Building enough of a presentation to create some context and get people excited about giving feedback was a lot of work.
The New Forrst is Almost Here!
If you've been following Forrst, then you know that we're set to release a big iteration, and are breaking through (or going around) this barrier of design feedback requiring so much investment. We've been using and iterating on the new Forrst internally for the past month and we're super excited to invite you into making this thing awesome.
The next iteration of Forrst will no longer ask individual members of the community to ask for feedback on their work. We'll curate questions from members around the most central questions in Product Design and focus the entire community on answering a single question each day. By decoupling the questions from a single piece of work, and rather asking them in general, we remove all the project context that people would need to get up to speed on and the issue of posting private work. You find solutions and participate in discussions pertaining to your real work, without necessarily having to post it online. Product design questions for the win!
With this next iteration having a renewed focus on helping people become awesome product designers, Forrst will operate under a new name and be part of the ZURB University. Do you have feedback or want to keep up to date with the next iteration of Forrst? Give us a shout on Twitter or request an invitation below!