As the demand for visual content continues to grow, more non-designers than ever are tasked with managing dozens of creative projects each year. While projects like this used to be small, today they likely drive your company's marketing and communications strategies, leaving little room for failure. 

This is a regular occurrence at my firm. Clients often have a lot riding on the content we produce for them, so properly communicating their needs is an imperative step in achieving success. But the process of developing successful visual content is a collaborative effort that can easily be derailed if communication breaks down. So how do you mitigate the risk of your expectations being lost in translation?

Follow these three rules of creative feedback:

1. "Make it Pop" and other subjective phrases do more harm than good.

The phrase make it pop is just one of myriad subjective lines that many default to when giving design feedback.

The problem with this can be summed up by the mantra beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, what might "pop" for you won't necessarily "pop" for another viewer. What you view as sleek, clean, modern, inviting, eye-catching, etc may not be an image shared by your creative team.

Subjective feedback can often lead to frustration on both sides; while you feel like you've given clear feedback, your designer might feel completely lost. Their next draft will either be a huge success or a huge letdown, and ultimately it's a gamble. 

After years in the creative services industry, I've found that subjective feedback is often the norm and have even found myself falling into the pattern on occasion. When there's a problem to solve, it's natural to lead with solutions but sometimes hard to translate those solutions clearly. Buzz words that mean one thing to you, but potentially something else to your neighbor, often become the fallback.

If you find yourself in this position, pause to identify the problem first. Share the problem with your project team without the subjective solution. A good creative team will hear out your issues and immediately identify objective solutions for you. 

2. Prescriptive feedback can be equally problematic.

While subjective feedback often leads to confusion, prescriptive feedback makes things so black and white that it can shutdown the creative process. Additionally, it could force a role switch in which you are driving the design solutions instead of the creative team you've hired to do the work.

When I first started my company in 2010, prescriptive feedback was common. But, as a startup at the time, we didn't quite know how to handle it. Prescriptive feedback is so direct, that often asking for clarity around the feedback can be seen as negative pushback or acting defensive. Not wanting to offend our clients, we responded to prescriptive feedback by simply executing any list of requests line-by-line.

What resulted were a series of subpar projects in which design decisions were made by non-designers, better solutions were not explored, and clients grew frustrated wondering why edits were taken so literally.

Today, we use a series of non-confrontational questions to get to the root of prescriptive feedback and shift the conversation to collaborative solutions.

But learning how to do this took time and a lot of experience. If you're working with a creative partner and want to get the most out of the project, avoid feedback that limits their ability to suggest solutions.

3. Sandwich criticism shifts the focus away from your project's goals.

A very common rule for assessing creative work is to provide sandwich criticism in which you lead with a compliment, then a critique, then end with a compliment. Unfortunately, this can easily convolute your message by minimizing the problem. 

Good creative teams are thick-skinned and pride themselves on accomplishing the end goals of a project above all else. This means that they thrive on honest feedback, because it insures that these goals remain top priority. When you focus on building up a creative team just to soften the blow of a harsh critique, it shifts the focus of a project to individual egos instead of the project's end goals.

The task of assessing creative work can be very intimidating. You may find yourself searching for ways to speak the language of your designer, are afraid to provide honest critiques, or you simply can't find the words to guide your creative team to what you are picturing in your head.

As a result, it's very easy to fall into subjective phrase, prescriptive feedback, or sandwich criticism rabbit holes. To avoid this, focus on communicating the problems and the goals you want to accomplish only.

The right creative team will shine with this level of feedback and identify solutions you may have never imagined. With this collaborative approach, you'll find that your content is far more successful!

Published on: Apr 6, 2018
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