Changing our attitude towards failure

Are you afraid to have your designs critiqued? If so you’re not alone, but it’s worth considering how this affects your ability to iterate on your designs and improve the product for your customers.

As designers, we sometimes struggle to ask for feedback during the design process. We get attached to our ideas because of the long hours we spend perfecting our designs. We may also be afraid to show our work in progress, because we don’t want to be judged too harshly on these early attempts. Society reinforces a fear of failure throughout our lives, highlighting achievements but rarely discussing the failures it took to reach them.

There are steps we can take to overcome these mental blocks, that inhibit us from delivering the best experience to our customers. The first step is changing your own attitude towards failure and criticism. The second is to build a culture within your company which recognises failure and iteration as necessary to create a great product for your customers, which is something we value at Booking.com.

“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.” Catmull, E. and Wallace, A. (2014) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

While you may feel that your initial design is a reflection of your skill, it’s easier to view it as a concept to be shaped through several iterations. Then you can see it as being constantly in flux and you will continue to adapt your ideas based on new information, data or feedback. At Booking.com we encourage this, along with a healthy dose of humility, because we must let our designs be part of the whole experience and not something to be exclusively owned.

When we are young we learn by doing, children will test multiple possibilities to solve a problem. No one tells them that it’s wrong to experiment or that they must find the correct answer on the first try. Taking a cue from our younger selves, we can be open to experimentation, allowing us to iterate through various concepts and continually improve.

Experimentation is the key to validating our ideas at Booking.com. Only a small percentage of experiments are successful, but if we aren’t willing to fail, we also won’t be able to learn how to improve the product for our customers.

“This is one of the most important lessons of the scientific method: if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.” Ries, E. (2011). The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

We can experiment on everything: from the designs on our website to new internal processes. If someone has an idea, they are empowered to implement it, get feedback and iterate. Experimentation can include: A/B testing, creating a prototype during a Hackathon, qualitative user testing or trying out a new process on your team members. Being in a constant state of change means we must be agile and take on new challenges, both individually and in our teams.

We are constantly receiving feedback from our users. So when an idea fails, we can’t take it personally, we must rethink our hypothesis or implementation and try again. We see all user feedback as good feedback, because it takes us closer to delivering what the customer wants.

A work-in-progress design is often not beautiful. You may feel that sharing a design in this embryonic stage could be damaging to your credibility. That people may believe you’re an inferior designer from your rough sketches, wireframes or unpolished layouts. But the upside to getting feedback early is that you can respond to problems and change your idea, interaction pattern or layout quickly, which reduces rework time.

“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.” Johnson, S. (2010). Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

We often have the image of a creative genius on their own, conjuring amazing designs. However, most of us know this is rarely the case. By asking for feedback on your idea or design from your peers, you access different perspectives. If you find holes in your own logic because you can’t justify your ideas, this could be a red flag that your concept needs to be reworked.

With the spirit of experimentation, it becomes important for all of us to support each other on the journey. At Booking.com there are many ways for designers to get feedback and encouragement from their peers. These can include: face to face chats with peers, an internal chatroom, a designer email list, meeting with designers in your track for feedback and a design sharing tool akin to Dribbble (which was produced during several Hackathons). All of these produce a similar result - quick feedback that can be used to improve your idea or design. This decreases the time between getting our ideas in front of customers, collecting their feedback through experimentation and continuing to iterate on the design.

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.” Catmull, E. and Wallace, A. (2014). Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

By accepting that failing is part of learning, we decrease our fear of failure and become more willing to experiment with new ideas. As we experiment and seek feedback, we will see how this benefits our customers, by creating a great product that is built on data and not opinions. Innovation won’t happen without failure. We must embrace it to continue learning and grow!

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