Giving creative feedback is hard. Check out these 5 tips to give better feedback.
An important part of the creative process is feedback. It gives creatives more concrete direction and ensures that the final asset is the best possible fit for the campaign or project it is supporting. Unfortunately, many reviewers have a difficult time giving feedback to their creative team. If you find yourself struggling to give good feedback on creative proofs, check out some tips to improve your feedback on your next proof.
1. Be Specific, but Don’t Give Away the Answers
The most important thing you can do as a reviewer of creative work is not to give broad, vague opinions. Saying something like “I don’t like it” isn’t helpful. Likewise, telling a designer to “make it pop” doesn’t really mean anything.
As you give feedback, try to think about what specifically don’t like, or what would specifically “make it pop”. For example, you could say that you don’t think there is enough color in the design, or you would prefer something more graphical, rather than having a hand-drawn appearance. These are things the designer can use to bring back something more in line with what you, the client, want.
At the same time, its important not to be too prescriptive in your feedback. Saying “make it blue” is certainly specific, but if you just give the designer a list of tasks, then you have turned them into a glorified gopher. It makes them feel as if they are only there because they know how to use Creative Cloud.
If there are certain colors, fonts, or other brand specifications the designer should be using, those should be provided with the project brief. Creative review, especially in the early rounds, is not about you telling the designer you don’t like orange and instead it should be blue, its about discussing why you don’t like the orange and working with the designer to find an option that addresses those concerns.
2. Leave Your Personal Tastes at the Door
So often reviewers of creative work get carried away by their own personal tastes and preferences when they start critiquing design. When this happens, it’s important to remember two things:
- The design is not for you, its for your organization, and needs to reflect the brand and adhere to the brand standards, even if you don’t personally like them.
- This project has an objective, and the “best” design will be the one that does the most to contribute to accomplishing the project’s goals.
Remember, as a client requesting creative work, you are a steward of your brand, and it would be remiss of you to put your own aesthetic preferences ahead of the brand look and feel. Additionally, in the case that you are working with an in-house creative team, they will be even more invested in adhering to brand standards. In-house creative teams often function as the guardians of the brand. It is unlikely that they have submitted something to you that is off-brand. Your expertise is the project and its objectives, so focus your review on how the design contributes to those goals.
3. Make Feedback a Dialogue
The best creative feedback is a two-way street. Open up those lines of communication by asking questions instead of jumping straight to critique. If you don’t understand why the designer has chosen that particular iconography, or has used only black and white stock photography, ask. Good designers are thoughtful about their choices. They don’t just randomly splash decoration on a page. Instead, they are thinking about themes and visual cues. If you jump all over something without asking why, good ideas could die before they ever get off the ground.
Another option, suitable for bigger projects, is to take the time to build out mood boards and cultivate a visual identity for a project before starting on the final deliverables. For example, the visual identity for a project might include rules such as all stock photography must show people’s faces to bring humanity to the design, or that the design should include plenty of white space to create a clean look. By developing this common language and aesthetic before the first proofs come in for review, reviewers can provide higher quality feedback without getting hung up on a particular design choice.
4. Tell Them What You Do Like
Even if its true, saying “I don’t like anything about this” is really, really unhelpful. If you find yourself reviewing a proof that you just don’t like anything about, you should take one of two approaches.
First, check whether the work matches the creative brief. If the designer has turned in something that is completely off base from the brief, then you’ll need to send it back. It can be useful at this point to return to #3 and ask them to explain their concept for the piece, but if you still don’t feel that the proof reflects the brief, then it’s time to go back to the beginning and build the brief with the creative team again.
If, however, the work does align with the brief and you just don’t love it, then go back to #2, and consider how your personal preferences are playing into your feelings about the proof. Additionally, go back to #1 and find ways to express specifically what you don’t like about the proof. Remember, the designer can’t do anything with feedback “I don’t like it” or “it’s just so bland”.
Most importantly, try to find something you do like. Not just to be kind, but because that is helpful to the designer. If there are some elements, or colors, or fonts, or anything at all that you do like, point those out. Knowing both what you do and don’t like gives the designer useful data to find a better direction for round two.
5. Give Your Feedback Quickly
Don’t let your proofs sit for too long after they come to you for review. Larger projects may take longer or require you to block off time, but many smaller projects can be well-reviewed fairly quickly. A few reasons to provide quick review:
- Keep the project momentum – the designer can’t do anything until she gets your feedback.
- Keep the project focused – if you let a proof sit too long you, and the designer, begin to lose sight of the original project goals, or you forget previous discussions. This is when you start wondering things like “Why are all the stock photos black and white?” even when the designer already explained that design choice.
- Don’t get left behind – If there are other reviewers on the proof, you want to be reviewing at the same pace they are. If you wait until everyone else is done reviewing you miss your chance to collaborate, and your feedback may hold less weight with the designer.
Giving creative feedback can be difficult, but it is crucial to producing top-notch creative. Consider implementing some of these steps the next time you have a creative proof to review to provide more valuable feedback.
Elise Hauser is a product and content marketer with a passion for telling brand stories. She has produced inMotionNow’s annual In-House Creative Management Report for 3 years, webinars, content sessions for major industry events reaching audiences of 1,000+, and of course, countless blog posts. When Elise isn’t writing about the marketing and creative industry at inMotionNow she is teaching economics and hanging out with her cat, Tucker, at her home in Raleigh, NC.