The art of feedback

“Your feedback is important to us. Could you spare a few moments to participate… [click]”

The internet is full of advice on how to ask for feedback. Yet how often in our daily interactions with digital products are we left wondering whether it’s worth even attempting to give honest feedback? What’s the point? Will it really make a difference?

At Emergn, we know a lot about feedback. One of the three guiding principles we built the company around is ‘discover quality with fast feedback’.

Emergn’s Value, Flow, Quality guiding principles.

To make a difference, feedback must be actionable, relevant, and timely enough for someone to act and improve on the product or service. That’s what makes feedback valuable. This article covers common mistakes and provides insights into the art of obtaining valuable feedback.

Feedback is communication

Feedback is a communication transaction. A transaction that needs to be efficient both for the sender and the receiver. For relevant, timely, and actionable feedback to be returned depends mostly on how explicit the sender is in their request. But the first common mistake is to send the request to the wrong receiver in the first place.

We know that asking your mom for feedback on your business plan is not a good idea, as she will be influenced in her capacity as your loving mom. But sending requests to recipients whose feedback is largely irrelevant is the most common mistake we see.

Relevant feedback

Professionally, we all operate in at least two orthogonal capacities; let’s call them consumer and expert, respectively.

In a consumer capacity, we are customers or users, as we use and experience any company’s products and services in a specific context. For clarity, this also includes when we use products and services as employees. In an expert capacity, we bring the skills, experience, tools, and data that come with the job we are hired to do, e.g., as product developers or software engineers.

The consumer context vs. expert skills, experience, tools, and data.

Experts have the curse of knowledge

The curse of knowledge is the name of a well-known and extensively researched bias. Yet, we observe subject matter experts spend copious amounts of time speculating over what “people” or “the customer” really will want.

There’s no substitute for getting feedback from actual consumers when it comes to user experience because their context will be unique. However, the curse of knowledge is not the only cause of irrelevant feedback.

Consumer ignorance is not bliss

Relying on user feedback alone is equally flawed. Consider the topic of keeping your savings secure. Whose feedback matters most, security experts or other bank customers? A security expert doing their job will judge risks given their expertise and data. Other customers will provide feedback on whether they consider the service to be secure, which is not the same.

For many quality properties such as security, scalability, and reliance, relying on consumer feedback comes with risks, both for the business providing the service and for the consumers.


  • Always ask a representative subset of consumers for their feedback on the experience.
  • Use expert feedback for insights that users cannot reliably provide.


  • Use professional quality engineers for ‘User Acceptance Testing’.
  • Assume that everyone matches the same demographics have the same experience, context, prior history, and motives.

Actionable feedback

In addition to being relevant, feedback needs to be actionable to be valuable. Sometimes, we ask for “feedback” because “For Your Information” feels formal and less inclusive. And many times, the term is used as a synonym for approval.

Feedback is for improvements. And only for improvements. If the information returned is not going to be considered, it is not feedback. And likely a waste of time and effort.


  • Explain what the feedback is needed for and what data you collect. Be precise about what action you expect to take based on the feedback.
  • Be constructive and specific on what improvements you consider most important given your context OR in your capacity as an expert.


  • Ignore statistics and data; product quality is a game of risk reduction.
  • Ask experts for sweeping judgments; “As an expert, what do you think?”
  • Ask just to be nice. If you’re not planning to incorporate the feedback and use it, don’t set the expectations that you will.

Timely feedback

What do you think about our website? I’m not sure; I’ve only been here for four seconds, which your tracking cookie would show, but now with this irritating pop-up in the way…I think it’s a bit rubbish.

Emotions are instant. If you ask a consumer for their first impression, expect feedback to be fast. Careful and expert judgments take time and reflection.

Common mistakes are to ask for feedback too early or too late. Too early is when the product is not complete enough to provide valuable feedback. And too late when improvements are difficult or costly to make. In general, consumers need more refined content and complete functionality than experts do. Experience and data make it easier to envision the finished product.


  • Ask experts for feedback on structures and outlines early while they can still be changed.
  • Ask for consumer feedback shortly after a complete transaction has happened especially if it is feedback on the satisfaction of an experience.


  • Ask experts for their first impressions. Allow for expert feedback to take a reasonable amount of time and effort to apply their expertise and knowledge.
  • Ask if you’re not prepared to wait for the feedback.
  • Ask if you’re not prepared to act.

Practical application and accessibility

Accessibility, of course, refers to the practice of creating digital products that consumers with a diverse range of abilities, including disabilities such as visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments can use.

Accessibility is becoming more important, partly driven by the EU Accessibility Act (EAA) coming into force in 2025. But even outside the EU and legislation, more and more businesses realize the value of providing good, accessible experiences that will benefit all users.  EEA mandates nearly all digital products and services to be compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

WCAG outlines guidelines and success criteria for creating accessible digital content. It specifies that digital products and services need to be:

  • Perceivable so the information presented is not invisible to all senses a user has.
  • Operable – so users can interact with the solution.
  • Understandable – so the user interface and contents are understandable.
  • Robust – so the solution can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies, e.g., with screen readers.

User testing

With or without impairment, how information is perceived and how it is understandable, is something very context-specific and subject to personal preferences, expectations, and previous experience. Actionable, rational feedback on these qualities must come from a relatively large and truly diverse population of real users to be relevant.

A consumer’s context and therefore their feedback is necessary to assess if the information is perceivable and understandable.

Expert testing

The set of tools alone needed to validate that a solution works with assistive technologies such as screen readers, magnifying tools, and braille keyboards, in all scenarios across different devices is vast.

Expert skills, experience, and tools are needed to ensure the solution is robust and operable.

Experience and expert skills are needed to ensure the solution is robust and operable with the required color contrasts, alternative texts, aria tags, navigation, etc. Actionable, relevant feedback regarding operability and robustness will only come from subject matter experts.

Fast feedback

Feedback on navigation and information architecture can be validated as the solution is designed using mock-ups and prototypes. During development, experts can test that the component used produces WCAG-compliant UI code.

But for real users to provide actionable feedback at the scale it matters, the solution needs to be near complete and the content should be polished. The key to success is to react fast and act as and when feedback comes in.

Effective and efficient

So far, we have covered how to get the most valuable feedback. But quality assurance also comes with a cost, not just in terms of effort to obtain it, but also in terms of risks and lead time it takes to complete work.

Time is a limited resource, and everything takes time. A whole workday is spent when you ask two teams of eight people to spend “just” half an hour of their time to provide feedback. There are always trade-offs to be made between obtaining the most valuable feedback with limited effort.

The bottom line

Actionable, relevant, and timely feedback is necessary to ensure product quality.  Only consumers will provide relevant feedback on the experiences your product and services provide. Only experts will provide relevant improvement suggestions on quality properties that depend on experience, skills, tooling, and data.

If you found this article insightful and want to dive deeper into our capabilities or learn more about Accessibility, Design Systems, and how they ensure good business, visit our Insights page for fresh perspectives!

If you’re interested in learning more about our Value, Flow, and Quality (VFQ) approach, explore our Insights on Skewed value distribution, Measuring the flow of real work, and Creating high-quality learning content.

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