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Website Changes and the Value of Feedback

I recently had an experience that reinforced for me the value of seeking feedback. When I first started creating my website, I invested much time and energy into developing the look and feel. When I finally launched, I was quite pleased with my work. But I didn't let that deter me from making improvements. A few weeks ago, I decided to get feedback about my website. Since my site is driven by WordPress using a custom theme I developed for the look and feel, I decided to submit a review request to the WordPress Support Forums. I wasn't sure what kind of advice I would get.

I was a little surprised when I started receiving negative feedback. After the initial shock wore off, I realized that many of the changes people were recommending made sense. A common complaint was that I had too much text crammed onto the screen with insufficient white space around it. I had deliberately left out vertical spacing bars present on most websites because I didn't (and still don't) like the idea of not using that space. For my design, however, I had inadvertently gone to the opposite extreme. All that text crammed together made the articles harder to read.

Based on the feedback, I decreased the width of the article text by adding white space around it. I also increased the spacing around the article title to make it stand out more. Below are images of my website from before and after these changes.

Website Before Changes

Website Before

Website After Changes

Website After

Receiving this feedback was a good experience. My web site is much improved and I increased my knowledge of web design. Handling negative feedback, however, is never easy. The natural instinct is for our ego to put us on the defensive. We defend our work rather than honestly evaluate the feedback. This is a conundrum for us as professionals. We should take pride in our work when it is done to the best of our ability. But to grow in our craft, we must set aside our ego and acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations. This is hardest for the expert: the term implies no such faults exist. In my case, I have never claimed to be a professional website designer. As a software developer I have done website design, but I know my skills in this area are not at a professional level. So this made it easier for me to seek feedback concerning my site's design.

Even with our ego set aside, evaluating feedback is not easy because it is not consistent. People have different likes and dislikes or hold contrary views. In the feedback I received there were opposing viewpoints: one person liked an aspect of the site while another criticized it. My strategy was to pay closer attention to recommendations suggested by more than one person, especially when there were no dissenting views.

If you seek feedback, then you must be prepared to act on it. While I was able to make the changes described above, I did receive other useful advice that I haven't had the time or resources to make use of yet. So don't be surprised if I make more changes to this site in the future. If you have any opinions about my website, including these recent changes, I'd love to receive the feedback.

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2 Comments on “Website Changes and the Value of Feedback”

  1. Justin Gamble says:

    I also prefer extra white space. Personally I don’t consider it a “waste”, because it helps to organize the content better and makes it easier to understand.

    I recall a psychology study that was done (maybe someone can find a link to it?) whereby a one-page piece of writing was presented to 2 groups. The page was identical, except that one group had a subject line, and the other group didn’t (it just started rambling, but without a subject line). The comprehension level of the group with the subject line was substantially higher. Why? Presumably because the way the human mind works, the subject line allowed people to properly categorize the information they were receiving.

    Subject lines are obviously different from blank spaces, but perhaps the same argument could be said about useful blank spaces inserted in key locations?

    A side-perk of the white space on the sides.. is that it encourages a more condensed article in-between the sidelines, which presumably is a good thing. :-)

    My only suggestion at this time.. is maybe to make the comment box wider? I notice the article text is wider than the comment box. Are you saying that the article text is more important than the feedback that I am now offering!?? :-)

  2. I’ve also heard of studies where reading comprehension suffers as the lines of text get longer beyond a certain point (but I don’t have a reference either).

    For the comment box – its width is fixed. I’d like to make its width proportional to the width of the article (which is dynamic based on your browser window size), but I don’t know how to do that excluding complicated javascript tricks. So I tried making the comment box as large as possible without impacting smaller screen resolutions.

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