How to give creative feedback to creatives if you're not a creative
Giving feedback can be a tough thing to do - especially within creative teams. It’s also likely that you’ll be in a situation when the person giving the feedback isn’t creative themselves, which is both intimidating for the creative and the non-creative as they try to find shared language and approaches to move things forward. Here is a simple guide to structuring that feedback and how to both prepare for - and to give it.
Things to consider when giving or planning feedback
Should I actually be giving feedback?
You should only really give feedback when your feedback or expertise is relevant
Sometimes we can find ourselves giving unsolicited opinion on things that either aren’t in our skillset or perhaps we just don’t have the right context. When this happens, our feedback becomes ‘opinion’ and unless you have been asked for an opinion (or you have asked if you may contribute an opinion) the risk of other expert feedback being confused or overlooked increases.
This is especially a problem if the feedback of an expert is overlooked or an expertise based critique gets disrupted due to a well-intended opinion.
How should I set myself up for feedback?
You should choose and create a feedback group you trust - with each member of that group having the specific expertise you need to get the job done
A Designer wanting feedback on a campaign should create a feedback group containing all the experts their campaign will touch. This may include: Sales, Marketing, and Product Line experts. They’re also likely to include another Designer to that feedback group to check their own bias and quality of output.
It’s important to balance the feedback group carefully to make sure it contains all the voices and expertise required for success - including someone from your own expertise.
Try to stay in your lane.
You should only give feedback related to your specific role in the project
This doesn’t mean that someone in Sales can’t feedback to a Designer, it’s just that the feedback should be relative. In this example, Sales have an expertise in the marketplace and with the customer or partner. Feedback should therefore be given through that lens, rather than a direct critique of the design itself - a critique which another designer would be better suited to provide.
Giving context of your role and expertise in the feedback process can open up better discussions, and allow people to learn from you and you from them.
Subjective is bad.
Without your expertise or role focus, feedback just becomes opinion
Saying ‘I don’t like’ something doesn’t forward the discussion or improve the end result - you have to show, via your expertise, why your feedback is relevant. Otherwise the person receiving feedback has to de-code your feedback - or worse - will just ignore it.
Instead of saying ‘I don’t like this’, consider reframing your feedback to reference reasoning such as “in my experience in ‘x’ market’” or “here is a relevant example of something I know works in this market”. Use this as a reference point in moving the conversation forward.
Check your bias.
Everyone has a bias
Maybe it’s personal bias like - ‘I love the colour red!’ Maybe it’s a professional bias - something you want to personally achieve, do or be involved in. All this is fine, but you should consider these biases when giving feedback. It can prevent new ideas, approaches and solutions being formed.
If everyone in the feedback group has a bias (which they will) it can cause personal opinion to cloud actionable feedback. Check your bias and challenge it - is this relevant? How did I develop this bias? Should I apply this to my feedback?
Everyone is aiming for the same outcome.
Feedback can feel like a battle of wills sometimes
Always remember - and the group should articulate this clearly - that everyone is giving feedback to make sure the end result is the best it can be. Sometimes reminding ourselves at the beginning of a feedback session of what this agreed end result / success looks like can encourage more aligned feedback.
Sometimes this can mean constructing your feedback to make sure that it is angled towards everyone finding a consensus or shared result, and sometimes this can mean compromise towards a bigger goal - it’s not about personal ‘winning’ or scoring points.
Feedback can be painful.
Often the person who has produced the work requiring feedback has invested significant time and emotional energy into doing their best work possible
It’s worth always remembering this. Accept that the person receiving feedback is likely ‘exposed’ and may take things personally or become defensive. But if they are remember it’s because they care deeply about the outcome.
Give them time to explain their thinking and how they got to where they are before you jump in with critique. Defensiveness is usually caused because someone is worried about being misinterpreted or not being able to communicate their process.
It’s not personal.
When we receive feedback it can feel personal
It’s tough - when we’re invested - to abstract ourselves from what can sometimes feel like a personal attack (especially if that feedback has been worded poorly).
Ask questions and see the feedback process as a conversation - why is this feedback phrased as it is? Can it be rephrased? What do you mean when you say ‘x’? Dig deeper and do some discovery - it’s a great opportunity to learn, but also to improve others feedback ability.
Have you considered?
If we accept that someone receiving feedback is doing their best and is working for the best result - we should be also be considerate in our phrasing
It’s very possible that many of the options you’ll suggest were considered before the feedback session, so feedback should recognise this possibility. An example of bad feedback is “This isn’t right, it should be red because that’s our brand colour”.
An example of good feedback is “Have you considered using red? It’s our brand colour”.
Asking this question allows the person receiving feedback to respond rather than defend - it maybe that they HAD considered it, and this will give you a clear reasoning as to why they then did what they did.
Remember the person asking for feedback is an expert also
We should always respect each others expertise. Because of that we should never use words like ‘Bad’, ‘Weak’ or any form of negative phrasing where possible as everyone has strengths where others have weaknesses. Use the feedback process to ask questions and discover why an expert has decided on a course of action.
Feedback sessions go both ways - it’s not just a show and tell. It’s an opportunity for mindshare towards a common goal, and a way of understanding each others expertise and reasoning around topics.
It’s ok to say nice things
People respond well to praise (who doesn’t like to be told they’re doing a great job?), and in exposed situations like feedback sessions, praise can be a trust building part of the feedback process. Rather than say ‘this is good’, however, say ‘this is good because ‘x’. This allows the person to understand what - to that expert - good looks like.
Explaining why something works or is good allows that person to understand this for the future and apply it to other projects - it’s a great learning tool.
Feedback without actionable results is just discussion
Make sure your feedback discussions result in tangible ‘to-dos’. Agree on those and make sure everyone in the group agrees on those next steps to ‘align’ the current presentation before the next feedback round.
Feedback gets derailed and people get frustrated when agreed feedback is ignored, or feedback is opaque and unactionable. Make sure you have consensus as a group and accountability and set a date for the next session - before ending the feedback session.
An easy to use 1/2/3 feedback framework
Ask > Discuss > Agree Action.
1. Ask (“Have you considered ‘x’? Followed by your expert context and knowledge)
“Have you considered making this red? The research we’ve done on brand suggests this colour is the best choice for maintaining consistency across this product vertical”
Allow the subject of the feedback session to respond to this question and listen carefully to their reasoning. Respond to this reasoning with follow up questions if required and use these questions to frame the discussion.
3. Agree Action
Decide the best way to move forward - what will be done, when and by whom.