How to deliver constructive feedback

September 13, 2021

Ask any art director or designer and I am sure they will tell you that there is an art to giving good feedback. There is nothing worse than being given direction, going forth and putting your heart and soul into creation, only to deliver – and then get feedback that was completely incongruent with your initial understanding. It is not only demoralizing and disappointing, it is a waste of valuable time.

When I was a designer, I experienced this from Account Service executives, “the boss,” and the client, so I know what it feels like. However, now, in a position of leadership, I often have to provide feedback and have sometimes forgotten the frustration I felt getting inconsistent, confusing or overbearing feedback.

I reflected on the times that I worked with marketers who did the very best job at providing feedback and compiled this list of best practices on how to do this very well.

The best marketers follow these guidelines when providing feedback:

  1. Allow the presenter to deliver the work without interruption. Whether a digital marketing strategy, a video script, social media graphics, etc., allow the creator to present their work to you uninterrupted and talk through their thought process before you begin giving feedback. There may be some golden nuggets of information you had not considered by just reading or viewing the work.
  2. Compliment before being critical. Before you delve into a critical assessment, start with establishing affinity between yourself and the creator, by acknowledging the elements that you see that are immediately “right.” Use phrases like “ I can see you heard …..” or “I can see that you really took _____ into consideration” or “I can see that you put a lot of time into this.”
  3. Ask questions. Seek to gain an understanding of the thought that was put into the work. What was your thought process? How do you feel about the work? What challenges did you face? What do you think works well? Why do you think this will be effective?
  4. Refer to the brief. Assuming all projects have a brief beforehand, (which they should) go back to the brief and make sure the creative solution works to directly accomplish the goals and objectives set forth in the brief.
  5. Analyze from the target audience perspective. When reviewing the work. ALWAYS put yourself in the position of the target audience. Imagine you are that person and ask yourself questions about the creative product or strategy through the lens of the person the work is intended for.
  6. Don’t react too fast. Slow down with your feedback. If you have to spend some time alone, to think through the work and compile thoughtful, comprehensive feedback, do so. Don’t rush.
  7. Remind yourself that design is subjective. I have to be really careful on this one. Sometimes I just don’t like something, and have been wrong. Meaning, the work was effective and the designer just had a vision and execution different from mine. I have had to learn to recognize when feedback I am giving is simply subjective. I have to remember there is more than one solution to a problem and sometimes new and brave ideas make folks nervous. If the work meets the objectives, the messages are on point, there is a level of trust that must be granted to the creator.
  8. Be thorough. After all of the above, be clear and thorough when providing feedback. Printing out a hard copy of the work and clearly marking it up or typing up thorough and concise feedback is often the best way to provide good direction. These notes can always be referred to later. If not, you may be going back and forth numerous times.
  9. Give context. When providing direction, sometimes it is helpful to the creator that you provide context. So provide an example or reference of what you are talking about. Or some facts and stats to back up a strategy decision.
  10. Confirm comprehension. Present your feedback, preferably in person, and confirm that the creator understands your feedback and the “why” behind it.

Providing effective feedback is a learned skill. It will take time and you will not always be perfect at it, but if you follow some of these guidelines, I promise that the end product will be better, your creatives will be happier and you will be better respected as a professional partner.

Remember, you are creative too!