Feedback is an important part of creative work. It’s actually critical for work in almost any field or industry, because working in a silo away from other humans’ eyes usually doesn’t yield good results.
But, as crucial as feedback is to any work process, it can be tricky to navigate. Sometimes, you pour hours and hours into a project, only to hear that it’s falling short of expectations. It’s tough, but learning how to receive constructive criticism effectively — and without letting it ruin your day — is a necessary skill for all creatives and marketers.
So, what are the best ways to give and receive feedback and then apply it to your work? Let’s dive in. To inform our approach, we spoke to a number of creatives, account managers, and executives at Walk West to get the full story.
How to Give Feedback — the Right Way
If you’ve taken any kind of management training course, you’ve probably heard of a few different ways to give creative feedback. At Walk West, we like to pair a negative with a positive. After all, if you’re just telling someone that they’re terrible, you hate their work, and they need to rethink their career choices, it’s probably not going to lead to great work. This is a human being you’re talking to so, in the end, it pays off to be nice.
We like to use the hamburger approach, especially if the feedback is tough. To do this, you begin with a positive. For example, if you were talking to a graphic designer who missed the mark on a project, you could begin with something like “You worked really hard on this project and I appreciate your work ethic. I can tell you put a lot of time and effort into this.”
With this introduction out of the way, you should then get to the “meat” of the matter (see where I’m going with this hamburger metaphor?). Now you can hit them with the feedback. Be direct, honest, and make sure you answer any questions they have. Try to be as detailed as possible so that they have all the information they need to proceed with round two of the project.
Then, to close the hamburger, hit them with another positive. Maybe say something that’s encouraging like, “I’m here for you if you want to work collaboratively on this, let me know how I can support you as we work together to complete the project to the client’s satisfaction.”
Sometimes It’s the Medium, Not the Message
And sometimes, you have to think about how the feedback is being delivered. For example, let’s say that you’re receiving negative feedback on a project you worked hard on. Would you want to get the feedback from an executive that you never speak to, who doesn’t know you very well, or even knows how you work? Probably not. You’d want to hear it from your direct supervisor or maybe the account manager who knows you and the client well.
Matt Norton, Senior Brand Experience Designer
When giving feedback or criticism, you have to think about the medium you’re using. If the wrong person is delivering the feedback, it’s not going to be as well received or understood and the whole project can suffer as a result.
Similarly, sometimes it’s best for negative feedback to happen in person or over a video call. You wouldn’t want to receive an email listing out all the things you did wrong or a forwarded message from the client with a list of everything they hated about your work.
If you’re stressing out about how to deliver feedback, it’s easier to just hop on a video or phone call to talk through it — you know, like humans.
How to Receive Feedback — with Grace
Look, let’s cut to the chase: hearing that your work fell short of expectations can be difficult. But, when you’re a seasoned creative, you also understand that it’s an essential part of the collaborative process. When someone is taking the time to give you feedback it means that they care about the project and want to see you create good work.
If you’re new to creative work, or just starting out with a company or agency, navigating feedback can feel challenging at first. But at the end of the day, it’s important to put your ego aside and remember that the feedback doesn’t reflect on who you are as a person. You are more than the work you create, the things you design, the copy you write, or the accounts you manage. You’re a person, and we think that’s pretty cool
Alright, sappiness aside, here are two things you need to do when you’re receiving feedback.
Ask a Lot of Questions
Listen to understand, then ask questions. If you’re an account manager taking client feedback to your creatives, try to understand exactly where the client is coming from. Be intuitive.
Megan Berliner, Account Supervisor
Listen first, to make sure you understand everything they’re saying, then ask clarifying questions. But also don’t be afraid to put your creative hat on to understand it from your team’s perspective. By looking at it from both angles, you can better collect information and separate the constructive criticism from the personal feelings. This can help you try to take as much useful information as you can back to the creative team.
And, if possible, see if you can arrange a call with the client and your team members. You can be the best account manager in the world, but sometimes creatives will need to hear it directly from the client.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk it Out
When you’re working with an account, you have to remember that your clients probably have a million things going on in the background. They’re running a business; reviewing your work might take up only a small portion of their day. That’s why it’s important to ask clarifying questions: something that seems confusing to you might be very simple to them, and vice versa. Keep the conversation open, direct, and honest to make sure that everyone is being heard and the feedback can be applied where it needs to.
Feedback is the Foundation for Creating Great Work
Working in a silo never leads to groundbreaking results. Creative campaign work should always be a collaborative process, one where you’re seeking input from experts in their craft. We hope you can use the tips in this blog to make your feedback processes a dialogue — one that’s marked by open, honest, and direct communication. After all, we firmly believe that multiple rounds of honest feedback and dialogue are the key to creating something — whether it’s a campaign, a video, an ad, a blog, or a story — that is well-balanced, innovative, and completes the goals it set out to achieve.
However, we want to emphasize that being honest and direct is no excuse for being a jerk. Do it with kindness. We’re all humans, after all.