If you’ve ever worked on any tangentially creative project, you’ll know that feedback can make or break the process.
There’s an ebb and flow of emotions that comes along with creating something for someone else for money. You get the brief, start off excited to tackle it and get to building something out of thin air. You’re brimming with ideas and beaming at your own brilliance as you’re click-clacking way on your computer, words flowing across the screen, or tap-tapping at your tablet with a first sketch coming to fruition.
But then you send it over for approval and get the first round of feedback.
In an ideal world, the feedback you get is clear, actionable, respectful, and either gives you further insight into what the other person wants, points out details you may have missed, or gives genuine points of improvement overall.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. Often the feedback that people give is more unhelpful than anything else. Where do you end up? With the person assigning the feedback thinking you’re incompetent and that they’re god, and the person receiving the feedback debating whether they should either jump into or push a particular someone else into ongoing traffic.
Here’s your comprehensive guide on how to give terrible feedback that sucks all the joy out of the creative process.
Step 1: Make vague comparisons.
I think if we made it more like x company, it would be better. What do you mean, what do I like about x company specifically?Ms. Reading-My-Mind-Is-In-Your-Job-Description
Sometimes you don’t know what you like until you see it. The problem comes along with pinpointing exactly why you’re attracted to that thing. See, taking the time to critically examine what it is that drew you in takes time and effort. Add on to that the time it takes for you to not only understand it, but also find a way to communicate it to another person in a clear and actionable way, and you’re already exhausted just thinking about it.
No. You paid someone else to read your mind (that’s part of the proposal they sent, right?) and you refuse to elaborate further. Can’t they see that when you said “theirs is bolder” you meant that you were only talking about the copy and not the visuals and that their copy was shorter, more direct, and contained less jargon while refusing to resort to an emotional appeal, relying less on melodramatic prose and more on rational facts?
How could they not understand that from “theirs is bolder”?
Step 2: Present every opinion as a statement.
I don’t like this part, and therefore it is terrible. No, I will not elaborate.Ms. Your-Opinion-Is-Wrong-My-Opinion-Is-Fact
It’s about time that people understood that you have the best taste in the world and that is an objective fact.
You live your life following a few unwritten, but important, style rules. Bright green is a garbage color, in all contexts. Superlatives should only be used when referring to Michelin-star-level dishes. And florals should only be worn by children under 9 and women over 65. Other people may not understand that you live by these rules or that these rules are universal in your mind, but that does not matter to you.
It should be clear to anyone working with you that when you say “This isn’t working” or “I don’t like this”, you are not opening up the floor to discussion. You’re dictating that if you don’t like it, no one else could possibly like it either. No, not even you, person who created and suggested it. Especially not you. LEARN TO HATE IT.
Step 3: Assert yourself despite not being the expert.
Yes, I understand this is your entire livelihood, but I am an expert in something totally unrelated to this which also makes me an expert in everything else in the world.Mr. Know-It-All-With-Too-Much-Confidence
Not only do you have objectively impeccable taste, but you’re also very good at certain things that have absolutely nothing to do with the creative deliverable you’ve asked for. As we know, expertise in one area directly translates to expertise in another completely unrelated area, and this now means that you know everything better than the experts themselves.
You may not be a writer or designer or videographer, but you are a superior human being with the unlimited knowledge of an omnipotent god, and they are not.
You’ve read words before. You’ve seen graphics. You’ve even watched videos! No, you’ve never tried to make any of these, and have never looked into what goes into making them, or the theory behind what makes a successful vs. non-successful one, but who needs industry-specific experience or theory? As a passive consumer and Verified Smart And Capable person, your gut feeling is more than enough.
Why can’t the experts just trust you blindly?
Step 4: Drip-feed feedback
Oh, and just a couple more teeny-tiny minor changes! I know we said only two feedback rounds and we’re now on round seventeen, but they’re just super small, easy changes, so that should be fine, right? Could you move the letters a little bit to the left? And change the logo to another logo you were never provided with in the first place? And change the copy to something else because we decided last-minute we don’t actually like the wording we provided in the first place?Mr. One-More-Small-Change
Designated feedback rounds are put into contracts for people like you.
The person who thinks that drip-feeding micro-adjustments instead of taking the time to find out what you want and how you want it in the first place is acceptable.
See, you’ve somehow convinced yourself that these seemingly small changes are not irritating to others. That anyone would be happy to spend an additional month moving an image a little bit more to the left, wait no, a little bit more to the right, wait no, can we put it back where it was in the first place?
You think you’re not as bad as the rest because you know what you want, but only in bite-sized increments. It’s not like you’re giving entire structural overhauls! You’re only asking for small changes! What you’ll end up with is either an almost identical version of the first option offered to you or a completely different beast, which means you gave the wrong brief in the first place. Either way, your creative has now lost the will to live, hates you, and screams into a pillow every time they see your name in their inbox.
It’s the pressure of perfectionism that you usually put on yourself, repackaged, and thrown onto the nearest unwitting victim who doesn’t know they’re about to spend 5,258 unbilled hours on “only minor changes”.
Step 5: Be overly polite.
Wow, thanks for these! These are, in my opinion, really great! Perhaps, could I please suggest some changes on the design? I think, subjectively, we could maybe use more of the design elements in the design you’ve sent? You know the design best (of course we trust you as the designer) but we think maybe if you could please add a bit more of the color part, in our opinion, that would be great! If not, that’s fine, too! But, please, we would really appreciate if you did add more of that color. Also OK if not though, I understand!Mr. Hurting-Feelings-By-Avoiding-Hurting-Feelings
You’ve learned from Mr. Know-It-All-With-Too-Much-Confidence and Mrs. Your-Opinion-Is-Wrong-My-Opinion-Is-Fact. You understand that no one likes to receive negative feedback and that it can be tricky to communicate. This is why you’re determined to spare everyone’s feelings when you give your feedback by being so polite people can’t understand what it is you’re even asking to be done.
Every other word is a “maybe” or a “possibly” or a “perhaps”, avoiding any accountability in case others don’t like your suggestions. You need to emphasize that this is all your own opinion, so you can hide behind subjectivity if anyone questions you on it, avoiding both blame and having to think critically on what you’ve suggested. You throw around “please” like they’ve threatened you or your loved ones with bodily harm if you’re not nice to them, hoping that the niceties soften the blow of whatever change you want made. In reality, with every “please” they read, the more likely they are to want to reach through the computer screen, shake you by the shoulders, and scream to your face “WHAT DO YOU WANT?!”
Your distracting filler fluff words and inability to commit to what you’re asking for means they’ll be left crying out for clarity with each email you send out. Oh, and stop reinforcing that you trust them because they’re the expert. The more you say it, the less they believe it.
Step 6: Eschew all social norms and go straight for the jugular.
My grandmother, who’s been legally blind since birth and hasn’t seen a single thing in her long long long life, could come up with something better in her sleep.Ms. I’m-Not-Rude-I’m-Direct
Your entire personality revolves around being a straight-talker who gets things done. The impact of what you say on others is a them problem, not a you problem.
So what if you said that you think a circus monkey on amphetamines could come up with better copy than the drivel they’ve thrown together? What if you’ve compared their design templates to that of your 8-year-old son who just started exploring their artistic side with the help of a mouse and MS Paint? They’re the ones who assaulted your eyes in the first place!
You paid for a job to get done, not for you to be nice to them (that’s extra). While yes, you’ve noticed that they’ve become less accommodating as the process goes on, and yes, they’ve started charging for previously free services, it’s not like your attitude has anything to do with it. You say it like it is, and they need thicker skin. They’ll get used to it.
Just don’t be surprised once you get the final invoice if there’s a surcharge for therapy along with it.
Giving feedback is hard. Being self-aware is hard. Understanding the difference between your subjective opinion and constructive criticism is hard. But just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the effort. People want to work with people who treat them like people.
It doesn’t help that we live in a world where technology has made creating easier than ever. Everyone thinks they can write, everyone thinks they have good taste, everyone thinks they can put some letters and symbols on a page and call it a logo.
It’s hard to remember that just because you write emails every day, it doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. Just because your child knows how to draw on an iPad, it doesn’t make them a designer. And just because you consume inordinate amounts of content daily, it doesn’t mean you’ve critically dissected and understood what it is you like and why you like it or that you’re adept at communicating that to another person.
Learn how to give feedback so you can stop assuming people can read your mind. Remember, their job isn’t easy just because they’re doing something “fun” and creating. They have to deal with people like you every day. And would you be able to do that?
Like what you see? I post a new blog ideally every week (…but at least once a month) where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.
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