Posted to Volacci's blog on March 28th, 2011

Feedback: Not Just a Noisy Microphone Anymore


“Feedback”. Most people probably think of the loud screech of a microphone when they hear or see this word. What causes feedback from a microphone? When a noise enters the microphone and exits the speakers and the speakers cause that noise to re-enter the microphone, the sound gets caught in an ever-increasingly amplifying loop that eventuates into the loud, high-pitched whine that causes people to cover their ears in pain. This type of audio feedback is known as the Larsen Effect and is a type of “feedback loop”.

At its core, feedback is simple cause-and-effect. It is merely the result of the expected effect after a cause has been implemented. In other words, when someone puts into action a cause (say, turning on a flashlight), the expected effect (the light that emanates from that flashlight) will either happen or not happen. The result, whatever it turns out to be, is feedback. Now think of all the things that give you feedback every day: turning on your car, typing on your keyboard and moving your mouse, turning on a light switch - the list goes on.

When referring to a website, feedback is a very important aspect of good web design and conversion optimization. Consider this:

  • Have you ever hovered over an image, wondering if you can click it, and your mouse pointer changes to a pointing hand?
  • Have you ever clicked on a menu item of a website and you arrived on a page that wasn’t what you expected and wondered if you clicked the right button on the navigation menu?
  • Have you ever filled out a form on a webpage and after clicking “Submit”, nothing appeared to happen?

These examples reflect good and bad feedback as it relates to websites. Good feedback will always let the user know that what they think they are doing or what they think they can do is correct. So, in essence, feedback offers the user positive affirmation in relation to the user’s actions or planned actions.

Bad feedback occurs when, for example, an image appears to look like a button and is expected to be “clickable”, but is actually just an image and nothing happens. Conversely, if an image is actually a button and is clickable, but looks like a plain image, this is also an example of poor feedback.

When designing or redesigning your website, keeping feedback in mind will significantly improve user experience. Think about every element of every page and ask yourself, “Does what I expect to happen, happen? When I do this, how can I be sure I’m doing it right? Will the website let me know if I can do this or if I did it correctly?”. Try looking at your site from the user’s perspective. You can also enlist a volunteer to tell you if anything on your site is confusing or frustrating.

feedback form.jpg

Finally, an article about feedback wouldn’t be complete without mentioning user feedback. Website owners often forget how important it is to find out what their customers are saying about their site, business, or product. Remember how microphones cause feedback? That initial noise put into the microphone causes the noise to be put out by the speakers and re-entered into the microphone over, and over. So, you the website/business owner need to put out there that initial noise (“What do you think about our site?”, “Is there anything we can improve on?”) and wait for the feedback to begin.

When you hear silence, be worried - very worried; your speakers could be broken. Oftentimes, silence means your users don’t think you care enough to bother telling you what they think. Offer them initial feedback by showing them how much you care! Put yourself, your product, your website, and your business on the line, because without your customers, your business will fail. If that ever happens, how sad would it be to suddenly realize that all it took was a little feedback?