Nothing brings a team together like making an idea come to life. But there’s a way to nurture and guide the journey so that the outcome is everything you want—or more. Feedback is a vital part of taking an idea from concept to finished product, and several best practices exist to make that happen successfully.
If you are the person managing the creatives, there are some things you can do at the outset of a project to put some guardrails in place and keep things running smoothly. Before a project kicks off, make sure that you and your creative team are aligned so that everyone is working towards the same goal.
To do that, outline the project’s scope, delineate the exact deliverables you need, and map out your timeline—the more clarity up front, the better.
Once the project has kicked off, communication is everything. And how you provide feedback can be the difference between success and failure.
Here are some tips for providing intelligent, respectful, and constructive feedback when collaborating with creatives.
ASK QUESTIONS—LOTS OF THEM
Asking the right questions is essential for sparking ideas. Especially if you are in the ideation phase of a project, it’s necessary to poke holes in ideas and to pressure-test the thinking behind concepts. It’s ok for ideas to fail. As the Silicon Valley maxim says: Fail often but fail fast. From technology to art to entertainment, great creators are the ones who take chances and question the way things are.
When your project is in motion, and you are reviewing work, asking questions is a great technique to ensure a collaborative conversation. Say you don’t like the hue of a muted mint green; instead of nixing it outright, ask your creative to talk about their color choice. A simple, open-ended question can be eye-opening. That muted mint that made you cringe may actually be trending and give your project some up-to-date cultural currency.
IDENTIFY PROBLEMS, NOT SOLUTIONS
Share your thoughts, but don’t tell creative precisely what to do. There’s a BIG difference between being specific versus coming up with the solution. Most creatives work best when they can maintain a sense of ownership of the work. Remember—this is their area of expertise. Trust that they know what they are doing, and they will likely come up with a better solution.
Yes, creatives have blind spots, but rather than rewrite or redesign something yourself, explain what you feel is not working. For example, don’t say, “make the logo bigger—instead, explain why you want it bigger. Is it hard to read? Is it getting lost on the page? Once you have identified what is not working about something, your designer may see a more elegant solution that involves shifting the color, placement, or injecting more white space. A problem-focused approach invites more fruitful collaboration.
START ON A POSITIVE NOTE
When giving feedback to a creative, start with what is working. Starting on a positive note helps frame the overall mindset of the meeting. Think: “This typeface is really working well,” or “I like your use of bold color,” or “Your intro sets up the piece very well.” And then move on to the parts of the project that are not working so well for you. Stay focused on the problem, and let the creative craft a solution. Remember, you hired them for their expertise, so give them a chance to take your notes and recraft the work with your feedback in mind.
BE HONEST. BE CLEAR. BE KIND.
Deliver feedback with honesty, sincerity, kindness, and, perhaps most importantly—respect. Emotions are part of the creative process; keeping the focus on the work in a mindful manner can help keep them from kicking into high gear. Some ways to do that include identifying what traits of the work are or are not feeding the end goal. Are there redundancies? If the copy is unclear, what would help clarify the message? Are there details that are off-strategy or don’t capture your brand’s personality? Saying you found something confusing is infinitely better than saying, “no one will ever understand this.” Speak to specifics. And as any therapist would recommend, avoid “you” or “I” statements and instead share what you feel is missing the mark. You can help keep things moving forward smoothly.
There may be nothing worse for a creative than receiving a pile of feedback in disparate emails or calls from an entire team. Collaboration can birth better work, but a tangle of disparate feedback leads to chaos and confusion. Gather feedback only from relevant stakeholders.
If multiple people need to review and approve the final product, gather and consolidate your collected feedback in one document before sharing it with the creative. Live PDFs are a smart way to do this. Keep comments concise—and be mindful of nixing conflicting remarks and any other criticism that is not constructive. When delivering the feedback, think more bullet points and less long paragraphs. Make it easy for the creative to digest your comments and make necessary changes.
SET PARAMETERS AND HONOR BOUNDARIES
Craft a trusted creative partnership by managing expectations from the beginning. Set timelines for check-ins at the start of a project, with time scheduled for feedback at different points of the project. And when asked to provide feedback, do it in a timely fashion.
Agree ahead of time on how many rounds of revisions are included and try to stay within those bounds.
Aim to stick to the original scope of the agreed-upon project. If you decide midstream to expand beyond what you initially thought was needed, be prepared to offer proper compensation. Beware of scope creep that is not negotiated. Nothing sours a relationship with a creative person than uncompensated scope creep. If your needs expand or shift, chat with your creative and plot out a new, refined plan of attack. Your relationship and project will be all the better for it.
Learning to give great constructive feedback is a valuable skill that will pay dividends. Some truly magical things can happen when all parties feel seen, heard, and respected. Improve your creative relationships by referencing these tips whenever embarking upon a new creative endeavor.
About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist—Karina writes, produces, and edits compelling content across multiple platforms—including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Yahoo News, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties and has spanned insight pieces on psychedelic toad medicine to forecasting the future of work to why sustainability needs to become more sustainable.