Why do us product designers opt into a career where we’re regularly challenged to be vulnerable?! Design is super subjective, and everyone is a critic! Regardless of your education or how sharp your design eye is, you’ll never be able to please everyone. This is especially true when you work on a product that has thousands upon thousands of users!

One of my personal challenges of being a product designer is learning how to process customer criticism. Its an ongoing struggle for me because I tend to be very sensitive to criticism in general. I’ve grown thicker skin over time, but there are still some days where I get down in the dumps.

My knee jerk response is to cave in, and give everyone what they want (or demand) so we can all be happy. However, good product designers don’t cave. We take a breath and carefully processes the criticism.

Digging into Customer Criticism

It’s hard, but sometimes you need to dig underneath the harsh and sometimes-hurtful comments. Is there actual legitimate feedback? Even if a customer insults you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they’re having a poor experience.

Once you’ve pushed past the hurtful comments and processed the feedback, are there common themes or issues raised by these customers? Obviously, bugs should be fixed, but have you overlooked some UX considerations?

Be honest with yourself. If there are things you can improve, and time allows for it, you should improve them. Even the tiniest improvement can be enough to change someone’s reception to a design!

Haters Gonna Hate

What about the people that hate something just because they can? Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that some people aren’t going to like something. Some things to consider:

  • You’re more likely to hear negative feedback. People are more inclined to write a support ticket when they dislike something. For every person complaining about your design, there’s likely hundreds or thousands that really like it!
  • Some folks like to complain for the sake of complaining. I’m not ashamed to admit that if someone tweets something nasty at us, I’ll often stalk them on Twitter for a bit to help get a read on the person. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how often these folks are habitual complainers—wasting time tweeting at other companies. You’ll never please these people.
  • Sometimes a thoughtful response will be appreciated. I don’t necessarily do this for every support request, but sometimes I’ll respond by explaining the reasoning of why a design was implemented the way it is. This does require a little care because you don’t want to sound like you don’t care about a person’s feedback. You still want to acknowledge the the customer’s complaint even if you’re not planning on changing the design. Sometimes these customers reply with a heartfelt appreciation for the explanation.
  • If someone really dislikes your product, they’ll pack up and leave. It sounds harsh, but it’s reality. Obviously you don’t want an exodus, and if that’s the case you should probably take a step back and reexamine things. However, it’s quite possible your product isn’t the right fit for some particular people. That said, it’s also unlikely that one disliked design is going to drive a customer away.

Abusive Customers

I don’t advocate taking abuse from customers on the chin. While I don’t think it’s okay to sling it back at your customers, I do think it’s fair game to call out hostile tone. I’m blessed to work for a company that has a policy around handling abusive customers. Your company may also address how to handle these types of customers. If you’re in a position to make these types of policies I highly recommend you do!

You’re Awesome

I mean… maybe you’re not awesome? Regardless, dealing with customer criticism can be really hard! And at the end of a hard day—no matter how awesome you are or aren’t, treat yoself! Have a little extra dessert, play video games a little longer, crank some tunes extra loud! Try not to take customer criticism personally. Instead, look past the harsh tones, and try to find legitimate and actionable feedback.