User Experience

I Have Some Feedback About Your Feedback

Got some feedback on my blog from another web professional. Here it is:

“No need to publish this comment, but damn man… For a UX blog, work on your colors. It’s extremely difficult to read anything, you need more contrast.”

I don’t find this to be particularly offensive and I am not angry. In my 17 years of making websites, I have certainly heard worse. But after reading this, I started to recall when I was younger and I would sometimes send blunt feedback with a negative overtone. It was as though my superior intellect would illuminate their dim minds. I thought I was just being honest, but when you show a lack or respect to the wrong person or enough people, you might find no one listens to you or worse. 

A long time ago, my creative director at the time pulled me aside and told me to just talk to people, because emails live forever and can be easily misinterpreted. I wish that was the last time I needed to hear that.

Years later, I was doing freelance at a big agency for a big client and regularly working onsite until 2am. Close to burn out, I sent an email to the project manager telling him I wasn’t coming in that day, along with a colorful diatribe about what I felt was going wrong with the project. This is someone I would go to lunch with regularly. I thought I had a certain level of trust with him. I was wrong. He shared that email with a group of other people at the agency. The next day, I started hearing back from my wife about what I had written. She was friends with a coordinator at the agency who was not even working on the project. I had already begun planning my exit, as I had grown to seriously dislike that agency and that client. Thanks to my own carelessness, however, my exit was expedited. The point is, after you hit send, your words will have a life of their own. So you better be prepared to defend them. That’s easier to do when the words are constructive.

So let’s go back to our feedback and break it down. One caveat: I figured out how to darken the text on this WordPress theme. Anyway, the feedback says, “It’s extremely difficult to read anything.” Since the feedback wasn’t more specific, I have no choice but to make assumptions about the meaning. So in this case, I will take that to mean they had a difficult time reading the body copy because it was gray text on white. I have seen some monitors that do not show gray very well, so if that is what they meant, it’s legitimate feedback. The headline is large black text on white, so the user must be able to read that just fine. I guess?

“For a UX blog, work on your colors.” Again, I will take that to mean that the body copy needs to be darker. But telling me to work on my colors leads me to believe they think that all of my colors are bad. Which tells me they exaggerate instead of providing specific, constructive feedback.

Yes, a lot of it is politics, but I’ve learned the hard way that you need to be professional, if not even nice, when addressing someone. Starting off with “but damn man” will put most individuals on the defensive. The words become like an off switch. And when you turn people off, you may as well be talking to a wall.

I recognize it when other people do it. They tell me they like my shoes, or compliment me in some other way. It’s a polite way to get someone to listen to you, albeit a trick of human protocol. Always start off with something nice, or at the very least, inoffensive. To some people, it comes naturally. To others like myself, however, it takes conscious effort. But I have found that, almost without fail, it is the best way to open someone up to a difficult conversation they might otherwise shut down.

In the end, everything that is said is just one person’s opinion. I hear opinions all day at work, but I pay more attention to the ones that are presented respectfully and constructively. So to the person who decided to give me some UX feedback on a previous post, are you right? Probably. The font needed to be a little darker. I spent some time figuring out how to customize this theme. So thank you for the advice.

But does this type of feedback make you look like a jerk? Yes. This is a clear example of how not to approach another professional. There are better ways to get your point across. Take my advice and learn from my mistakes. There is a better approach. 


Choking People Made Me A Better Designer

Some days I run out of work at 5 PM to go choke people. Not to be rude. I let them choke me, too. I am a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art that promotes the idea that a smaller, weaker person can beat a larger, stronger person through skill and technique. And yes, sometimes chokes. I love the art. I love the science. There is so much to understand and it keeps me fascinated. I often see the similarities between my 9 to 5 and my version of happy hour. My job as a designer at Amazon is challenging. What I do for fun is equally challenging. Work hard, play hard. There are so many lessons in fighting that are relevant to my life and to my job. But three in particular stand out for me.

Lesson number one: calm down. When I first started training, I would physically exert myself to the point I would burn out in a matter of minutes. Like pushing against a brick wall, all my effort was getting me nowhere. You’ll never learn to control other people if you can’t control yourself. Early on, my instructors told me many times to slow down. What they were actually telling me to do was to think more about the problem at hand. Take time and analyze the opportunities as they arise. So in time, with the right direction, I began to understand how to slow down and apply pressure only where there can be forward movement. Attack the weak spots and defend with minimal effort.

As a UX designer, I am sometimes pulled into conversations where someone has already framed the problem and is telling me how to solve it with their solution. I know an impulsive response when I see it. This is where I take a step back and consider all angles before deciding how to solve the problem, because I have learned that when you get in a hurry and allow someone to press you, you make mistakes.

When you’re tired and a 225-pound athlete is crushing down on you, trying to pull your arm out of socket, it’s easy to lose your wits and give in to the pressure. But I find that if you steady your mind, you’ll be better equipped to defend yourself. You focus on survival first, slowly working your technique to get back to a position of neutrality. Then you attack.

Lesson number two: seek efficiency. So often we hear this message. The idea seems easy enough to grasp, but often slips through our fingers. When fighting, efficiency is a matter of applying the appropriate leverage at the appropriate time. Anything else becomes a waste of your energy, the most precious commodity you have in a fight. Worse, inefficient movement exposes you to counter attack.

When designing an experience, our principal goal is to create an efficient experience. Any online task we ask a user to complete should contain the minimum number of steps they can cognitively manage. Sometimes there is an argument about needing to add more things to a design. But more often in my experience, I find people wanting to take too much away. There are essential steps you can’t combine or remove. Try cutting out a few essential steps in a Jiu-Jitsu technique, and you’re going to lose. Too few steps is just as inefficient as too many.

Lesson number three: learn to fight by fighting. When I was much younger and training in Karate, I thought I was learning to fight by punching the air. There were all these theories about how to defeat your opponent in a given situation. Yet, no one was regularly testing these techniques, and no one seriously questioned them.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques can only be fully understood when you learn to use them on someone who is fully resisting. You find some things work for you and others that don’t. It is a test-based mentality. When something fails, you ask, “What did I do wrong? Are there details I am missing?” The challenge is that you are reacting to a living thing rather than just the air, and not everyone reacts the same way. So you adjust your technique and try again.

Creating a user experience is no different. It’s easy to get lost in a world of theory and opinion without testing and feedback. Even the most educated guess is still a guess. But seeing how people react to a situation will keep you headed in the right direction. I am fortunate that I practice two disciplines that pursue a higher truth through testing. For me, it’s a cornerstone of both.


I train at the Gracie Barra Ballard academy just north of Seattle. Stop by for a free intro lesson!