Rule of Thumb: When Providing Creative Feedback – Be Specific

Recently we delivered a Powerpoint design to a client. The initial feedback was: “Can you make the pictures more beautiful”. The designer’s response… “Certainly, do you have something specific in mind”? For creators, nothing is more frustrating than ambiguous feedback that lacks clarity and specificity. In most cases, it’s not the client’s fault. They’re just not accustomed to the creative process. Truly useful, actionable feedback on subjective matters like design is an acquired skill. In a study that reviewed 11,470 days of creative work at 7 firms, two patterns emerged: 1) feedback was scarce to begin with and 2) the feedback given often created a negative emotional impact.

When it comes to creative work, how can non-designers, managers, and stakeholders deliver feedback that achieves the desired result and maintains a positive environment? More importantly, how can project teams guide their clients and managers on the right ways to provide creative feedback? We’ve compiled a short list of guidelines to help: 

  1. Keep an open “space”: When giving feedback for the first time, keep in mind creativity is inherently the birth of a new idea or a set of ideas. At the early stage, the goal is to keep the process collaborative, not one-directional. It starts by openly recognizing that our creative perceptions are really subjective opinions, not objective facts. Openly recognizing this, helps keep an open space for collaboration that will lead to a better result. Managers should preface their statements subjectively. Example:  “What strikes me is…” or “My opinion is…” or “My sense is…”. This acknowledges there are multiple potential pathways and one person’s opinion isn’t necessarily the right one. 
  1. Be Clear & Specific: Vague or ambiguous feedback statements like: “Can we make the header more exciting” or “Please up the “wow” factor” just serve to keep people guessing. There’s nothing helpful or actionable about it. Instead be specific and use validating data where it’s logical. Example: “According to the data I’ve read, button sizes between 42 and 72 pixels get more clicks. Perhaps if we adjust, we’ll see an uptick.” Feedback that’s specific, actionable, and provides validation will land with greater authority. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with just calling it like you see it i.e. “I don’t like it”. Just be prepared to drill-down, provide suggestions, and state your reasons “why”.  
  1. Refer To Your Roadmap: During your planning and review calls, go back to your project plan and verify the creative direction is in alignment with the overall project goals. Rarely is the project plan fully baked at the outset. It’s a living document that should be referenced frequently and adjusted as needed. Lastly, recognize the difference between what the team at Asana calls “blocking” feedback and “advisory” feedback. Blocking feedback must be addressed before the product leaves the building. Advisory feedback is helpful, but not critical. 
  1. Start with Gratitude: Let’s face it, humans are hard-wired to be critics. Our natural inclination is to focus on what we don’t like. Managers need to keep this impulse in check. When we start by expressing what we don’t like about a creative product, it sets a tone that can instantly stifle creativity. Instead, start your feedback with something you do like. This conveys appreciation for time and effort spent while fostering a safe environment when it comes time to share more critical feedback. 
  1. Trust your Team: One of our core values is to inspire trust, to suspend our egos, practice non-judgement, honor reason and data, validate others, and show generosity. As Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” When giving feedback, keep in mind you hired a professional for their expertise. If you can resist the temptation to provide feedback on every item that crosses your desk, you’ll accelerate progress and avoid unnecessary delays. Trust your team knows their craft and is fully capable of executing on your vision. Chances are, they won’t let you down.   

Need a hand completing a creative or technical project? Consider hiring one of our skilled Project Leads to get it done for you. Drop us a line at: [email protected] or 949-288-3036. 

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