For the past few months, my day has started with going through the reviews and support forums for Gutenberg (the new editing experience for WordPress). When I started, I wasn’t aware of what benefits this would bring to me.
I began out of a need, there were reviews and requests not being answered. The project was moving at a rapid pace and tasks were springing up needing someone to help complete or they just weren’t getting done. I began going through them, simply as a way to be helpful as it was a task that needed doing. I was hopeful through doing this I would get a better view of the user needs. It has become far more than that.
Fitting in getting feedback each day is hard to do. It’s easy to start work and dive right into the fires burning. I’m in a European timezone and it seems that every morning the notifications have piled up, something has happened whilst I’ve been asleep. As the day grows the notifications do. Taking time out of constantly responding to direct interactions seems a huge ask. Yet, it’s important as a practice and every time I do it the benefits are great.
Setting the tone
When replying to a review, the tone used is what can best be described as ‘respectful, polite and helpful’. Simply by having a space to practice this important tone each day is a huge benefit. Taking time, making sure your reply respects the person leaving the review is incredibly important. This goes for 1 star and 5 star reviews.
It also sets the tone for your day when you make it a part of your routine. I have experimented with when I do them, for me doing at the beginning of the day is usually best. The tone for the day is set and it actually helps a lot with the rest of my interactions. This has for me, become a project mindfulness exercise. It’s one I value a lot now and see the benefits this practice has given me, the insights, the levelling up of my interaction skills.
Creating care in a project
A project that doesn’t respond to criticism isn’t a healthy project. Sure, it may be a quieter, easier project for those involved in making it. It’s not healthy though, it’s only going to lead to a rift between those creating and those using. The wider that gap becomes, the more likely it is for the project to fail.
Care is earned from users and evolves into respect. If you take time, show that a project is going to listen to someone taking time to leave a review, or coming to the support forums, it shows care for users. Simply ignoring doesn’t make the voices go away, it actually makes them louder. By replying, you show humans are making this and that’s incredibly important. You are respecting those using and showing those making it are real and not some faceless entity.
Hearing all voices
Going back to the stream of notifications. In a fast moving project it is incredibly easy to just hear only the heartbeat of the project. The developers, the designers at the heart, they combine to make a cacophony that can drown out everything else. Yet, taking time each day to listen outside, this means you gain an important perspective.
As a designer leading a project, hearing these voices is essential research fuel. Picking even the smallest nugget of information out from the widest or shallowest review mine, that’s become something I enjoy doing. This has become an important part of my user research process. It is worth noting, this is just ‘one stream’, like anything just using our data source is a pretty bad way to go about things. Listening to the feedback but remembering the context and adding to others (in and outside the project bubble), that is how you get a balanced view.
Admitting it’s not easy
Truthfully, no it’s not easy to have to reply to a stream of 1 star reviews. No matter what benefits you gain from it, sometimes doing this practice may feel like taking a pretty distasteful medicine. You work hard, you put your soul into something and here is someone criticising it. That’s hard to hear. Sometimes the reviews veer into abuse. Whilst if too abusive you have the right to close, this doesn’t mean you’ve not read them and felt the words.
When I find myself veering into this mindset, I step back and remove myself from this. The person writing the review isn’t criticising me, they don’t probably even know me. Their first interaction with me is right there in the review. This is why this interaction needs to be positive, it needs to show them that their feedback matters, the project is listening and not getting caught on self bias and centred thoughts. Remove your self and the reply will be all the better for it.
Find a way to get feedback each day
Not every project has such an obvious way to get feedback, I am really lucky that as a plugin for WordPress, Gutenberg has a lot of feedback. It’s not hard to find a way though and make it a daily practice in any project. Feedback ideally comes from outside your project heart though, listening to just one heartbeat isn’t going to grow you, it’s not going to give you that perspective you need. I’d encourage everyone to look outside, listen and cultivate the art form that is responding without your self getting in the way.