In the agency world (and rest of the world for that matter), we live, eat and breathe feedback. It’s the secret to our sauce, and we can all use an extra braincell now and then. I like to consider our creative work somewhat of a “hivemind” (pun intended). We have our ownership over projects, but all projects have a shared perspective from every team member. Learning how to give proper feedback is an art unto itself. It can make the difference between giving valuable input versus frustrating your teammates. Whether you work in a creative agency or are simply trying to pass on some advice, knowing how to give and receive feedback in a constructive manner will save immense time and feelings. Here are a few ground rules I have learned during my time at BatesMeron.
Knowing what works is just as important as understanding what doesn’t. Sure, sometimes you have a gut reaction, but dig into WHY. Is the design too cluttered? Is the copy falling flat? Does that specific shade of green remind you of your high school lunchroom’s green beans? Make your thoughts known! The clearer and more detailed—the more there is to work with, and the better the product.
Same goes when receiving unclear or confusing feedback. Don’t be afraid to dig-in. Most people appreciate when you try to understand them. Ask clarifying questions and confirm what exactly it is that is causing the reaction, and maybe offer up some alternatives. They’ll most likely appreciate the effort and both sides of the party will have some peace knowing their perspectives are being heard.
No one likes to be told they did something wrong, but as creatives you get used to it! We’re like deep sea crabs: well-adapted to pressure and the ebbs and flows of agency life. If you hold back feedback due to fear of hurting feelings, you:
However, there is a delicate art to serving up a spicy critique. The most delicious way to put it on someone’s plate is by serving it in a nice compliment sandwich. The recipe is simple: take what you like and place the critique in-between. Not only does this soften the blow, but it’s beneficial to reinforce everything you’re liking so far to make sure that work keeps on coming.
Now, it’s easy to judge a piece but when you’re on the receiving end the role it’s quite different. The initial reaction to being told your hard work needs to be redone is almost always an involuntary and silent “F**K YOU”. But give it 10 minutes, a slight pivot in perception (and maybe a walk around Millennium Park) and you’ll usually find the feedback is the best move—and the product is now at its utmost best. Make sure to thank your teammates when you’re done, this helps create an air of gratitude and comradery.
Although we give our all in everything, there can be nuance and not everything requires everything. Keep in mind the value of you and your teammates’ time. This blog post is short, sweet and didn’t need 4 rounds of revisions, but a client’s website will need as much work as it takes to get copy and design where they need to be.
At the end of the day, we all fall victim to subjectivity. Such is the way with art. What’s in will be out, and what’s out will be in. We create what is best for our time but give it 10 years and our opinions will have changed. No one’s taste is the same either, so when considering giving and getting feedback, make sure to have some sort of grounding. Capture as many notes as you can during a creative brief and use them as a reference when defending your decisions or giving feedback later in the design process.
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