“Anything you get back is helpful” wrote Lyz Nagan in a great post about the benefits of user testing. I found myself nodding along to all the points made in the article and felt inspired to share an experience of when a user test was extremely awkward but uncommonly helpful.

I was a designer and business analyst on a strategic project at Travelers that was intended to make significant improvements to the customer experience and processes across Operations. The team worked hard to make sure that we were going to improve things and research was a major component of our work. Upon designing a new process that would support the changes, I met with an employee in our back office to validate some of the decisions. This employee had been working at Travelers for over 30 years in a similar function. I presented a prototype that demonstrated the new information flow. I thought that she would poke holes in the flow and some of the slight changes to her role. But before I could even ask a question she dropped a bomb of feedback.

The Feedback Bomb

“So, you are automating me out of a job?”

I’ll never forget the feeling in my stomach when she asked me that. I knew there were going to be changes to her job but I also understood that she was going to take over different but comparable responsibilities. I didn’t know how to respond. The product owner who was with me for the test and I made eyes at each other. This was feedback that I was not prepared for. The product owner and I talked through the changes but I could tell that she was not satisfied with the answer. She explained that she was close to retirement and not excited about or expecting to have to learn a whole new job right before that milestone.

We moved on to addressing the flows and she quickly validated the design decisions. Normally positive feedback on these decisions would mean that we could move forward. However, my title is experience designer and I knew that the experience for this key employee would be negative and that would hurt her and our business goals.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

This was some of the most important feedback we received for the whole project. It caused us to take a hard look at all the people affected by the process on an individual level. We worked with HR and the training team to create programs that would ease the employees into the changes instead of throwing a new process at them and forcing them to do it.

Getting this very unexpected feedback changed me as a designer. I believe that I was drawn to this profession because of the empathy that it requires and the personal connections that must be made to gain that empathy. Up until that point in my career I had received “negative” feedback on my designs but never something so personal. What I learned is that because I design experiences that can have radical effects on people’s lives I should be ready for radical feedback. This feedback can be the most uncomfortable but also the most valuable in helping you grow as a designer and a person.