Process 3: The fun of feedback

[Third of three articles about Don’s process and why it’s enjoyable.]

Design is usually an iterative process. The typical approach is to (1) Identify a need. (2) Make something to address that need. (3) Use feedback to refine the thing you have made. (4) Keep repeating steps 2 and 3 until you run out of budget or hit the deadline.

My professional life as a designer for corporate clients taught me that getting feedback is slow and expensive requiring market research, surveys, focus groups, and number crunching. When I started doing Kickstarter projects, I wasn’t prepared for how easy it is to get feedback. I also didn’t expect it to be so much fun.

There are four ways I get feedback from sponsors of my projects. People can post messages everyone can see. People can email me directly. I can ask questions when I email individuals. And I can do surveys using Survey Monkey or the Kickstarter survey tool.

I think of the insights I get in four basic categories—I like, I do, I think, and I want.

I-like messages are fan mail. I didn’t expect people to take the time to express enthusiasm for my work. But sometimes they do and it is delightful and gratifying. Nothing brightens a gray day like hearing that someone likes a drawing, a product, or a joke I have made. So please keep the fan mail coming.

I-do messages are when people explain how they are using the things I make. I never expected to receive these glimpses and I cherish them. For example, A guy explained how he and his wife are using Calamityware plates to filter out dull dinner guests. If a guest isn’t sharp enough to notice that something strange is happening on their plate, they won’t be invited back.

Another example. I learned that archeologists date North American dig sites by examining shards of broken porcelain. Students are taught to figure out where fragments belong on a time line spanning centuries. The twist is this. Archeology teachers have a sense of humor and like to slip in a funny fragment to see if the students are paying attention. Did I have any broken bits I could share?

Other examples? People write to me about favorite recipes. Several people have described the strategy of rewarding well-behaved grandchildren by letting them choose their favorite calamity. I’ve corresponded with Pirates of Penance enthusiasts. And I’ve had people describe the shining moments when they realized there are unexpected creatures hiding in the borders of the plates. For me, there’s a thrill in learning that a product I have made is playing a role in some stranger’s life. How nice.

I-think messages are opinions. People everywhere have opinions and love to tell you what they think.

Reactions to the Calamityware bowls and small plates is a good example of people spontaneously sharing opinions. These pieces use insects to add excitement to porcelain items that are too small for a full-scale calamity. Lots of people wrote to tell me about their insect fears. I guess I should have expected that. But I didn’t expect the correspondence I got from people who appreciated the joke and wanted to share that opinion with me.

I’m not surprised that people have different opinions. But I am surprised by how entertaining it is to listen to them.


I-want messages are attempts to steer Don and that makes them the most dangerous feedback I get. 

Fairly often, someone wants me to depict their favorite calamity—Godzilla, snakes, whatever. (I even had one guy propose that the scariest calamity in the whole world would be his x-wife.) 

Or they might want me to design specific products like tea sets, socks, playing cards, or neckties.

Since I worked as a graphic designer for 50 years, I’m conditioned to listen to clients describe needs. Like most designers, my mind immediately starts thinking about solutions or paths that might lead to solutions. 

But wait. I don’t serve clients any more. I need to stay focused on my own explorations in my own sketchbook. I’ve already got too many half-baked projects in the oven. The bucket list of projects I’d like to complete before I kick the bucket is already a page and a half. The last thing I should be thinking about is taking on a client. So, this channel of feedback is the one I’m trying to learn to ignore.


2 Responses


October 25, 2021

Please make Calamity socks. They would make fabulous presents for Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus or whatever miserable people celebrate these days. Thank you.

An ornery, middle aged woman


September 01, 2016

Hi Don – I think this post is fantastic! I hope it’s OK that I shared a link to your post on LinkedIn. Please let me know if you have any issues with the me sharing on LinkedIn, and I will pull down the link.

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