Listen Carefuly

Provoking the Right Feedback

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You use mockups to clarify what your application is supposed to do. This sounds simple – you sketch some screens, show them to your customer, and then pass on the results to your developers. Usually, however, this is not enough.

Many times, you will not be getting the feedback that you need.

  It is not enough to be a good listener. You must provoke feedback actively!

Often, your customer clams up when confronted with anything remotely technical. On the other hand, she might be eager to help, but simply doesn’t understand what kind of feedback you require. In both situations, it is not enough to be a good listener.

You must provoke feedback actively!

Populate Mockups with Real Data

“Empty” screens won’t ever be discussed in great detail, but when you put real names and numbers there, you are magically triggering the customers’ expertise, as though you have pushed a button that includes them in the task.

 Empty screens won’t ever be discussed in great detail.

Data should be chosen to specifically provoke a response. Any time that you have doubts about something, put it right there on the screen. If you can’t decide between two choices, put the “dubious” one in the spotlight.

You can further this strategy even more…

Put the Issues in the Spotlight

While you struggle for understanding, you always have plenty of questions. Integrate their logical consequences into your screens. That way, no one will be able to postpone or ignore any decisions that need to be made.

Sometimes, this can be quite complex, so when it seems like this might take too much work, there is an alternative. Note the question right there on the screen, or if you have a recommendation, write that instead.

  Any time that you have doubts about something, put it right there on the screen.

For example, “Vendors are sorted by most recent orders on top. Search function is NOT needed.” Put this as a visual comment, so people won’t be shy to express their opinions.

When your customer is commenting on “the screens”, he will criticize the presence of these visual notes – very directly, if you did it right.

Group Screens to Provide Business Context

You want your customer’s expertise, everything else is secondary. But how do you get her into the expert mindset right from the start?

One approach that works is to organize the mockups into scenarios. Sketching each step of the scenario might look like an overkill, but it’s easy actually. You simply copy-paste the appropriate screen, and change the data to reflect each step. Mock-up important exceptions too, while you are at it.

  You want your customer’s expertise, everything else is secondary.

Note that any batch of tightly related screens will do. Scenarios just provide several extra benefits, such as:

  • They are quick and easy to create.
  • They test your own understanding before presenting it to the clients or users.
  • You can’t get more detailed than this, process-wise.

Once you have your scenario fleshed out, lead your customer through each step. Where something bothers you, spell it out for the audience. Leave enough of a pause, and someone will inevitably jump in.

Mockups: Provoke the Right Feedback

Nice tricks, some people might say, but in fact, these are very basic and common communication techniques that can be very useful when tweaked for this particular context and have proven their value over time. Remember to use them when you need them and you will be fine.

Working with people means communication and in live workshops, several simple techniques can make a real difference.


What now:

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2 comments

  • Jose Coronado

    This is very typical problem in design, implementation and testing. In the design phase, I run a lot into this problem with “Lorem Ipsum text” and the client simply does not get it. They ask – why is the screen in Spanish or in Latin?

    On the flip side, early in the design, mockups with lorem ipsum or blocks instead of data help the product team focus on the big picture.

  • Jeff Rayment

    I have used mock ups as a way to illustrate scenarios (in my case, use cases or user stories).

    We received feedback from our customers that they didn’t appreciate what use case words said. But this feedback was only received when we delivered the software to them and they didn’t like what we’d delivered although it met the spec. As a result of that feedback, we adopted a process to mock up (wireframe) screens as early as possible.

    Therefore what you have said resonates with my experiences.

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