The Art of Openness

Bradley Simpson


If you want to create truly amazing work, then it’s time to start sharing it. Letting others view and critique your work forces it through angles of assessment that, as the person who created it, may not be as easy.

Feedback forces you to (re)evaluate your thinking on a problem, the process you took to get to your current solution, and the finished product. Being open to this feedback is crucial for building great long term relationships with clients and colleagues. It builds trust, shows confidence and competence. It tells others that you’re open to being challenged.

The opposite is also true: someone who doesn’t want to share their work can be seen as insecure and protective. Their work is above the scrutiny of mere mortals.

Being open with your work also allows others, who may not have had an opinion, to develop an opinion.

“Strong opinions are very useful to others. Those who were undecided or ambivalent can just adopt your stance. But those who disagree can solidify their stance by arguing against yours.” — Derek Sivers

As designers, perhaps the biggest risk from being closed with our work is that we never widen our own thinking. But there are risks with being too open. So what are some practical steps you can take to ensure you are open, but not a push-over?

Critically judge the feedback you receive

Judge the value of feedback on it’s merits, not someone’s ability to argue! Sometimes people are great at making a case, but they don’t necessarily have great ideas.

Be open, not a push-over

Don’t be too quick to change. Being open to feedback isn’t about facilitating the ‘average’ of everyone’s thoughts.

That’s the difference between being open and being a push-over. Being open is about listening and considering. Collaborating and sharing is not a process where you try to work in every piece of feedback you receive into your work.

When you’re responsible for a piece of work, sharing it and collaborating with others is about deciding on what advice should be taken on board and what should be discarded. You’re paid to make the best decisions, not please everyone.

Choose carefully (tl;dr: not everyone)

Ensure that your offer to others to critique your work is appropriate for the person and their role. Invite only your trusted colleagues as collaborators, and share versions with no access to the behind-the-scenes workings for everyone else.

Be careful what you ask for

Be measured in the questions you ask each person or group. Will you go for the generic “can I have some feedback?”, or will you ask for more specific feedback (“do you feel this interaction could be improved?”)? Defining specifically what you ask for is crucial. If you ask for any and every type of feedback, be prepared for what may come back!

Pick your timing

Choose the most appropriate timing for opening up your work for feedback. This often differs project to project. You’ll learn over time where and when the sweet spot is. Don’t fall into the trap of sharing your work with everyone at the same time, or too early, or too late in your process.

Show humility

Showing humility with your response helps encourage others continue to offer feedback. Embrace the dopey ideas, and realise that many pieces of feedback you receive will be just that. Listening and engaging with them is an investment in the future. On your next project a dopey idea may just flourish into a game-changing success.

Looking for a place to start? Find a sticking point in a current project, and open it up: invite some colleagues to collaborate with you and share it with some stakeholders. A great way to do this is by creating an interactive prototype and inviting people in to collaborate

You may be pleasantly surprised what comes back.

Posted 13 May 2016

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