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Are User feedback streams considered during Design ?

On occasion of World Usability day today, I still have a thought and also wonder if there are  many users who are still struggling with interfaces to perform their intended tasks and whether their voice was heard while the interfaces were being designed, be it a website or an application targeted for laptops, tablets or handheld devices.

The answer would still be inclined towards a 'Yes'. There might be still a good number of unhappy users. With such a number of sites and applications undergoing redesign, change, content updates everyday across geographies, and for so many different target users, there is a probability that target users in scope would not have been available or identified to gather feedback during the design of interfaces.

In a given project, where does the process of user feedback start and where does it end? What is the best phase of design to have such feedback sessions with users?  

Following are the possible phases to have user feedback sessions and as part of iterative design process : 

 1)  Wireframe/concept level (Paper, wire framing tool)

2)   Visual design level (static jpegs images with look and feel and branding)

3)   HTML prototype level

4)   User Acceptance Test

5)   Live version 

Notably, each phase provides different type of feedback on design in progress.

For example, concept/ wireframe phase gives user feedback primarily on basic site structure, navigation elements, information contents, naming convention of menu.

Visual design phase provides feedback on 'look and feel', branding, visual affordance, color and style in addition to the information architecture.  

It is recommended to have such user feedback sessions preferably first during wireframe phase. Simply, as it is easy to make changes in fundamentals of design based on user feedback very quickly and with least efforts. The design is still taking shape in a wire framing tool or even paper prototype. 

 The more delay in having these sessions arranged in later stages of design, more team members need to redo their work ( visual designers, HTML developers) and more cost it adds up to the project budgets.  

 I believe that with the advent of usability term used, realized and usability practice being evangelized across organizations in different domains, user feedback would be forming as one of the core input during design to achieve better user experience.

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