Design Development

Community, feedback and learning

The main subject of this post will be all about communities, how they can help you learn and become a better designer through valuable feedback and what can you do to pay it back. The second part is also important. It is one thing to accept someone’s advice and act upon it while another to give something back. For this reason, you have to understand this practice of taking and giving back no matter how good you are or have good you think you are. Without further ado, let’s start.

Communities, either online or “offline”, can be precious source of information, knowledge, new relationships and also work opportunities. They can become great advantage for you whatever the field or industry you are working is. They can also help you stay sane at time when you are buried under tons of work or can help you stay on track when everybody else is showing you their back. Before going any further, let’s understand what community is at first. Here, I will borrow a definition from Oxford Dictionary.

One of the definitions available is following: “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” or “The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.” For purpose of this post, I will combine these two together. The result is: “Community is a group of people sharing or having certain interests in common.” This is pretty close what most people probably think about in terms of communities and I agree with them. However, power of communities can go beyond this definition.

The most interesting and fastest growing communities are probably online. Examples of some bigger players focused on design can be Dribbble, Behance, DeviantArt and one little bit younger Ocean. All these examples offer you various features and fancy stuff, but they share something in common. First, the ability to share and show your work. Second, the choice to comment someone else’s work, to give a feedback.

These features are reason why they have such a huge user base and are still growing. However, the amount of feedback and its quality will vary from case to case. For example, community like Dribbble and Behance are used more like a showcase or portfolio and majority of provided feedback is only about congratulating author and patting him on the back (especially Dribbble). Appreciation of your work is good and important, but you will learn almost nothing from it.

That’s the reason why I mentioned Ocean. This community is different. Its goal is to help users learn and grow as designers through commenting on their work. It seems the same as the other examples, but the users are behaving differently. They give you their advice and opinions, not just congratulations. In some situations, comments can become really tough but that’s the point of valuable feedback (or critique). Sometimes it has to be tough and straightforward so you will open our eyes and see what you’ve missed.

When I was designing my website, Ocean was the first place to reveal my, at that time, newest work. I felt nervous, uncomfortable and almost talk myself out of it. Almost. Next day, there were dozens of comments on the work I published. Reading these comments was not an easy job. I had to quiet my ego, which was pretty big at that time, in order to understand what I did wrong, learn from it and also apply all the suggestions to the actual design.

Most of issues with my design where about the use of whitespace (too little), line-height (too small) and visual hierarchy. It was painful experience (you know, ego), but it was also one of the best days in my life. I got kicked in the ass. I needed that. This was in December, I guess, and I am still thankful for this learning opportunity community of Ocean gave me. Without them I would not be where I am now.

Let’s switch now and talk about how to give a useful feedback. First, the definition of feedback provided by Oxford Dictionary: “Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.” Damn right! Remember the second part – “which is used as a basis for improvement”. This is the best definition of valuable and useful feedback you can ever get.

Forget about comments like “I don’t like that.” or “It looks like crap.” These types of comments have no value for the author. They can only crush his confidence and courage to keep learning or distract him. If you don’t find some detail or aspect of someone’s work can be improved use following process. First, address the issue in understandable way (what is wrong and why) so the author can follow you. Second, offer solution and be descriptive in terms of why to apply it.

The second part is crucial. Without giving any solution, your help is only partial. It one thing to other an issue and another to offer a solution to it. That is another level and what helps feedback fulfill its definition. So, when you spot some issue, always include solution along with reason(s) why it author should follow your advice. These reason provided by you will also help the author to learn from his mistakes and avoid making them in the future.

This is or should be the purpose of every community. Helping their users learn, grow and progress steadily in their craft. It does not matter which community you choose, the all can help you on your journey. Just keep learning.

Conclusion

Communities can become precious source of knowledge and information. If you know how to behave in these environments, they can speed up your learning process, no matter what skill, work or goal are you pursuing. However, keep in mind that communities are not a one way street. You should just take what they offer, but also contribute somehow and give back. There are probably dozens, hundreds maybe thousands of people like you wishing for help, so don’t keep your mouth shut.

Give them useful feedback and advice following the two-steps process outlined above so it will help other people to learn and grow. Thank you for reading this post. What are your experiences with communities?

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