How To Give Feedback to a Creative

In Design, Life
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If you are a client, one of the most important things you can do to aid the creative process is to give good feedback. We’ve all heard about how we should provide consecutive criticism, but in my experience very few people actually know how to put this into practice. But consistently giving good and constructive feedback to the creatives you work with is one of the best ways to build trust and ultimately receive the end product you are hoping for.

#1. Your Feedback Should Be Prompt

As much as creatives may sometimes bristle under feedback, even worse is getting little to no feedback at all. It puts them into a situation of process limbo, since they will be unsure of how to proceed, or even if to proceed at all. We rely on your feedback to know if the project is aligning with your vision, and it also helps us to keep schedules on track.

A lack of feedback, on the other hand, only creates uncertainty and will probably ultimately push all timelines back.

If you are providing direction on a project, it is vital that you provide your creatives with feedback that is prompt. A good practice is to build feedback milestones into your projects from the beginning. As an example, you and the creative agree that a preliminary draft will be available by X date, and then schedule feedback on it by Y date. Make sure to build in enough time (if possible) to allow for either minor tweaks in direction or major shifts. The more extensive and altering your feedback, the longer of a timeline you should expect.

Providing prompt feedback enables your creatives to move forward on the project with confidence, as they can either continue in the direction that has been established or make tweaks or shifts as necessary.

It will also cut back on frustration on the creative’s end. I have worked with clients both internally (i.e., at my job) and externally (for outside clients). But in both situations I almost always have enough projects forthcoming that I have to be fairly diligent about spacing projects and scheduling milestones. When clients are late on feedback and it ends up pushing back the original agreed upon due date, it can deleteriously affect schedules for other projects. Thus, whereas originally I may have been able to focus entirely on a project because of scheduling for it, now I am in the position of having to split my focus.

Prompt feedback can help obviate these kinds of situations, and will help you receive your project on time and to your specifications.

A final warning: Whatever you do, do not wait until right before the deadline to offer critique. This will utterly demoralize your creatives, and if you are contracting with them, may lead them to drop you as a client. If it is an internal relationship, you may place undue strain on it going forward and may become “that client.” Build in lots of time for feedback!

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Always strive to give prompt feedback. Establish timelines and milestones for drafts, feedback and finalization to keep both you and the creative on schedule and accountable. [/pullquote]

#2. Your Feedback Should Be Specific

This may not be readily apparent to those on the outside looking in, but there is kind of a running inside joke amongst creatives concerning the general lack of good client feedback. It goes something like this:

Creative: What kind of direction or aesthetic did you have in mind?

Client: I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.

(Later)

Creative: Here’s a draft of the project.

Client: I don’t like this.

Creative: What direction would you like to go instead?

Client: I don’t know, but I know it’s not this.

To be sure, this is a bit of a caricature, but some clients can be notorious for vague and unhelpful feedback. And to be fair, to give feedback on something that it outside of your skill set is not always easy.

But one of the worst kinds of feedback you can give is to simply say “I don’t like it.” Without a backing rationale, this is completely unhelpful and can actually damage your relationship with your creative. This sort of feedback is often instantly demoralizing, especially if you haven’t given clear direction from the start. It can cause your creative to feel like they are aiming at a target that isn’t there. It may also put them into a defensive mode, and you may not be able to maximize their abilities going forward.

Instead, make every effort to give specific feedback. In your mind you may have a vague notion of “I don’t like this,” but in order to help your creative move it in a direction you want to go you’ll need to provide tangible reasons for shifting direction or specific things that you would like changed.

As you critique the piece, look for specific things that form the basis of your critique. Does it just not go in the direction you want to go? Instead of just saying it doesn’t, give an example of what you would like to see. For example, let’s say you want to promote a specific product that does a specific thing, but the direction of the piece does not speak to that. Or maybe it might give the wrong impression of the product. In this case you would want to explain those reasons and lead your creative in a different direction.

After all, if you say “Our product does “this” but this direction could give the impression that it does “that,”” you will not only get a much better reaction than “I don’t like it,” but you will most likely also help your creatives to better understand where you are coming from. This will enable them to better craft the piece to what your vision is, even if you cannot fully articulate it. Your specific feedback can often help the creative to discover what you actually want, even if you you don’t exactly know what that is.

Additionally, look for other specific aspects of the design that might form the basis of your critique. Typefaces, colors, graphics- these are all things you can speak to that can help build solid and useful critique. Most creatives don’t necessarily mind critique; it’s more that they are sadly too often only exposed to poor critique. By practicing good critique techniques you can build a lot of trust and goodwill with your creatives, and will be able to more fully utilize their skills.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Don’t just say you don’t like something; take the time to understand where your feedback is coming from and give specific reasons for the feedback you offer. Bonus points if you can offer specific ways forward![/pullquote]

#3 Your Feedback Should Be Constructive

We’ve all heard the cliché of giving people “constructive criticism,” but in my experience many stop right at the criticism part. Constructive criticism is not giving criticism in a nice way, nor is it unilaterally decreeing changes or shifts in direction. Rather, constructive criticism- as the name implies- is feedback that builds upon what has already been made as a way forward.

This naturally dovetails nicely with the idea of feedback being specific, since any “constructing” will also have to be specific.

Now, while you don’t necessarily have to be “nice” with your feedback, it certainly doesn’t ever hurt. However, if you are using niceness merely as a screen for your un-constructive criticism, your creatives will see right through it. What is far more important is that you intentionally use your creatives’ efforts as a springboard into what needs to change.

And to be honest, this isn’t easy. It actually takes quite a lot of practice. But the more you work at it the more natural it will become.

Begin by noting all the things you do like about a piece. It is very unlikely that you will dislike absolutely everything in it, so be intentional about discovering elements you do like. Is there a typeface you like? Make a note of it. Do you like the color scheme? Be sure to praise that. Are there things about the direction that aren’t quite right but could be tweaked to get it where you want it? Try to develop that in your critique.

The goal here is not to simply say “I don’t like this” and start over. Rather, it is to build off of your creatives’ work. This can only happen if you are willing to notice and explain what you do like and give ideas about how what you do like can move this piece forward.

The bigger the shift in direction, naturally the harder it is to provide truly constructive critique. If you find yourself critiquing a piece that is simply missing the mark, you can still salvage the situation and keep the creative on board and invested in the project. But it will take a little more work on your part.

Start by revisiting some of the points in #2. You need to be able to explain why this isn’t hitting the mark (again, “I don’t like it” is not a good reason). If you originally were unable to provide specific direction, now you will most likely need to; otherwise you aren’t giving your creative a target to hit. It can sometimes be helpful to do some research and find examples of what you are looking for. But again, you will still need to be specific- what is it about these examples that you like or which pulls you join that direction?

Just saying “I like this, can you do something similar” is just about as unhelpful as “I don’t like.”

As you go through each round of feedback with your creative, never cease to be constructive with your critique. Always be looking for things in the piece that can be built upon, even if you think they ultimately need to be changed. In this way you are helping your creative to understand what you want, and if you can consistently provide feedback with grace you can develop a great working relationship. With enough time and understanding a sort of synergy can emerge where the creative starts to know what you’re looking for from the outset.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Let your feedback be something that builds upon your creative’s work, rather than something that tears it down.[/pullquote]

Conclusion

Giving good feedback isn’t easy, but it is vitally important. If you can cultivate the habit of giving prompt feedback that is specific and constructive, you will more easily form great relationships with creatives, which in turn will help them develop your project into something that not only hits on your vision, but often even exceeds it.

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