Checkpoint feedback in Topcoder can be defined as a precious piece of information given after the client review session, where each design submission receives comments. The outcome of the competition result is highly influenced by the way you implement this feedback.
I think good designers can read the checkpoint feedback, incorporate the instructions into the design and complete good work. I think great designers can read through the checkpoint feedback’s hidden signs, can scratch the surface of the client’s intentions, create a collection of valuable insights, incorporate them into the final submission and deliver an outstanding design tailored to the client’s needs and feedback. Do you want to be a good designer or a great designer? If you got this far I’ll assume the latter, so let’s take a look at this approach and tips to get the most out of the checkpoint feedback of a design challenge.
That’s it, just like the Braille system. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a writing system created by a visually impaired person for visually impaired persons. There are characters that have texture (embossed/debossed), depending on a series of a combination of dots that give meaning to characters forming words, lines, and even books. For a visually paired person, it’s not just enough to see the symbols to read them, we would need to touch them, and see the type of relief on the characters.
Caption: Let’s get our hands dirty.
My suggestion would be to think of feedback as Braille characters. You can not just take a look at them, you must get your hands dirty, feel the texture, savor the surface then spill out the meaning through a great solution that really reads what the client is trying to say.
There are two types of feedback provided during the checkpoint round: general feedback and individual feedback. General feedback normally applies to all the submissions; these are elements the client thinks all submissions will benefit from. Individual feedback is targeted to specific submissions, they address individual issues the client observed.
Caption: Paging Dr. Feedback.
Should you ignore the global feedback even if you received good individual feedback? I wouldn’t. This feedback is the global picture of the outcome of the first review session. There are insights you can collect from here to use for your advantage. But there is one that I would focus on sniffing out. Is the client happy with the first set of submissions?
Interesting. How do I scale that and how do I benefit from it? One of the signs that tell this treat is the mood and the warning level of the introduction to global feedback. Normally you can see lines such as “good job everyone”, but when you see “still needs work”, “some requirements are missing” or “it is important to follow the requirements”, stay alert, there’s something going on behind the curtains.
If she is not happy with the global outcome you must know you are part of the global entries somehow, so you would need to make an effort to find what’s not working. Ask in the forums! Other than that, if she doesn’t feel unhappy, make sure to incorporate all the items stated in the global feedback.
Is it constructive? Is it encouraging or discouraging? Your own feedback can tell you a lot about the progress and direction of your work. It’s always good to find out we’re going in the right direction, but we must be able to read between the lines to detect the quality of the feedback and when our direction is not the best. It will allow us to shift direction if necessary or just make adjustments to the current concept.
I’d say the signs your design is heading in a good or bad direction are tied to certain parameters:
Quality of comments: If the feedback mentions your workflow and features, not just layout and branding positive comments, you’re doing good, it means they captured client’s attention. If you get comments only for your layout and icons, it’s very likely that your UX concept is not solving the problem.
Type of requests: If you’re getting repeated comments that ask you to add or remove something, it means that there’s something either with the requirements or with your interpretation of them that your submission is lacking. I’d revise the requirements and ask questions to make sure I’m getting the ideas right. If the requests you receive come more in the form of suggestions or wondering, it means you’re conveying the idea right and the client wants to see more content around your proposal.
Number of comments: this is non-deterministic but in the majority of the cases, it can tell a lot about the feedback. When it’s large, more than eight lines, I’d stay confident I did something good. When it’s short, I’d pay attention to what I can improve from the checkpoint round.
There are comments that are designed to sound politically correct to avoid hurting designers’ egos. In my opinion, honest feedback is more useful than diplomatic feedback but that’s up to the preferences of the communicator and the relationship with the designer. I don’t mean to discourage you with the following but to create an awareness alert on the direction of your work.
What’s the matter with this awareness? It makes you take preventive action. You are not there yet to be a winner, that’s why you must be alert and do something about it. If I were in a design challenge and I received any of the following comments, I’d get into alert mode, to reconsider my design direction and ask even more questions in the forums:
Good start / Nice design: it means you’re doing well but not great.
Great start: you can be a checkpoint winner but don’t fall in the trap, stay alert.
Promising start: there is potential in your design but you are not solving the design problem yet. This is a typical comment for very good looking submissions that lack UX thoughts.
Interesting submission: you probably provide a unique point of view but didn’t manage to fulfill the idea. The client needs more context to understand your concept.
You hear that your friend tells her sister that she wants a mochi ice cream. She tells another friend she wants a mochi ice cream. She tells the neighbor she wants a mochi ice cream. What do you think she would do to your popsicle ice cream when you give it to her as a gift? I think you get my point, detect trends and give the client an effing mochi ice cream.
Caption: Mochis are irreplaceable.
Plain and simple, catch multiple comments that mention the same goal. For example, these submissions received the following comments:
Submission A: I liked the way the user can access pages from the side.
Submission B: Didn’t like the horizontal approach to navigate pages.
It seems the client is screaming mochi here. In this case, the mochi ice cream would be the side navigation. I wouldn’t personally take a comment as a pattern or trend if I see it only in one individual feedback. There is an ethical line that can be crossed with this advice. Your first thought can be, I don’t want to copy anyone else’s work, I want to be original. That’s perfect, that helps, however, we can not ignore the requirements flux. I don’t say to copy other designers’ features (by reading between the lines) but to consider the highly requested concept, or mochi ice cream, in order to incorporate it in a way that works well within the lines of your own work.
Caption: Guide the user from the landing page to the how it works page.
To wrap this up, I think it’s worth mentioning that a checkpoint submission is subject to winning a prize (top 5 - client’s choice). I’d be careful with this. It’s true that if the client selected your submission as a favorite it means there is something valuable about it. However, you’re not the only one competing. Even people who didn’t win a checkpoint prize can still compete in the final round for placements. You haven’t won the challenge yet and it’s dangerous to get extra confident.
I’ve witnessed how designers let the trap snap at their feet, losing against designers who didn’t win a checkpoint prize. It can also happen that you don’t receive a checkpoint prize; is that a reason to quit or to push forward? It’s a personal decision, I’d say, based on your ability to collect the feedback insights and your guts. A couple of years ago I wrote an article where I unveiled stats about the winning rate of designs that didn’t win a checkpoint prize. In my challenges (2014 - 2017), 56% of the designers that didn’t receive a checkpoint prize ended up winning a placement in the competition, 30% of the designers that didn’t receive a checkpoint prize won first place, meaning that 3 out of 10 designs (without checkpoint prize), still won the competition first place.