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 concrete direction and ensures the asset is the best fit for what it is supporting. Unfortunately, many reviewers have a tough time giving feedback to their creative team. If you find yourself struggling to give valuable feedback to creatives, check out some tips to improve your feedback.

1. Be Specific, but Do Not 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 do not like it’ is not helpful. Likewise, telling a designer to make it pop does not really mean anything.

As you give feedback, think about what specifically you do not like, or what would specifically make it pop. For example, you could say that you need more color in the design, or you would prefer something more graphical. These are things the designer can use to bring back something more in line with what you, the client, want.

At the same time, it is 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 do not like orange and instead it should be blue, it is about discussing why you do not like the orange and working with the designer to find an option that addresses those concerns.

2. Leave Your Personal Tastes at the Door

Reviewers of creative work often get carried away by their own personal preferences when they start critiquing design. When this happens, it is important to remember two things:

1. The design is not for you, it is for your organization. It needs to reflect the brand and adhere to the brand standards, even if you do not personally like them.

2. This project has an objective. 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. You would be remiss to put your own aesthetic preferences ahead of the brand look and feel. Additionally, if you are working with an in-house creative team, they invest 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 Creative Feedback a Dialogue

The best creative feedback is a two-way street. Open those lines of communication by asking questions instead of jumping straight to critique. Do you not understand why the designer has chosen that iconography? Or why they have only used black and white stock photography? All you have to do is ask them. Good designers are thoughtful about their choices. They do not 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, clever 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. They help cultivate a visual identity for a project before it starts. 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
  • The design should include plenty of white space to create a clean look.

By developing this common language and aesthetic before the first proof 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 it is true, saying ‘I do not like anything about this’ is unhelpful. If you find yourself reviewing proof that you just do not 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 will 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 do not feel that the proof reflects the brief, then it is 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 do not 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 do not like about the proof. Remember, the designer cannot do anything with feedback ‘I do not like it’ or ‘it is 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 do not like gives the designer useful data to find a better direction for round two.

5. Give Your Creative Feedback Quickly

Do not let your proof 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 quickly. A few reasons to provide a quick review:

Keep the project momentum

The designer cannot 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.

Do not 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 creative proof to review to provide more valuable feedback.

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