How to Give Good Feedback

How do you give good feedback on someone else’s work? What do you say? How should you say it?

Maybe their design doesn’t quite solve your problem. Maybe it’s the way the message is presented or the lack of a specific message. Maybe you’re not sure what it is, but something feels off.

We’ve all been there. Giving feedback can feel daunting, scary, or even unnecessary. You may think “I am not a professional or a creative, so I don’t know what looks good.”

Good news: Helpful feedback doesn’t require deep knowledge in a creative’s practices, or knowing all the artistic terms. We don’t expect either of those from you. [Sigh of relief].

What we need is a sense of direction toward a solution. What message are you trying to tell your audience? What’s the response you hope to see from them? You might not know how to get your project there, but you probably know where you want to be.

Your feedback is critical to moving your project in the right direction. Why? Because no one knows your message or call to action better than you. In the end, we want you to be pleased with what we’ve made and feel that it’s the best solution, given the constraints and goals you have. Your input is crucial to getting us both there together.

Giving good feedback is collaboration. It is where both parties put in the work to solve a problem together with the assistance of creative tools. No one is above or below the other, but there is mutuality.

Steps Towards Partnering for a Creative Solution:

  1. Consider: What are the next actionable steps toward a solution?
    The goal of giving feedback is to move the project closer to completion. To communicate effectively and constructively, we need to agree on the next steps to take. Good feedback gives us just that—an opportunity to know what needs to change, and the next moves to improve it. If you don’t know specific terms or the right words to use, use the words you have. It’s ok to talk about how the work feels, or parts that “don’t feel right” but try to be as specific as you can. Also, asking “why” about specific parts of the design/video is a great path to understanding. There are often reasons behind the choices being made. Asking why they made those choices is a great path to understanding — and effective collaboration.
  2. Give feedback promptly.
    Delayed feedback results in delayed or rushed work. Many stakeholders don’t realize how impactful this can be. Long delays put projects at risk of being rushed at the end, narrowing the amount of opportunities a creative has to find a sharper solution. There are usually a lot of projects going on at the same time for us, so long delays mean your project won’t be fresh in their mind. That often leads to missed details. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Prompt feedback helps everyone.
  3. Talk about the work — not the worker.
    Remember that feedback should never be aimed at the person doing the work, but on the effectiveness of the work itself. There’s an inherent emotional tie between creative work and the person making it, so we constantly remind ourselves that feedback on our work is not feedback on us personally. It’s ok to be critical of what we’re producing if you see what’s not working, but you can help guard that work/worker boundary with us. When giving helpful criticism, do so with empathy and tenderness toward the person while being honest about the work. Remember it’s a partnership.

An example would be helpful here.

If you say “I don’t like your choice of text size, it is too small for me.” it’s not feedback on the text alone, it’s also a criticism of their choice. A better way to say the same thing would be “Having the text all the same size doesn’t allow the title to stand out.” or even “This section of text feels a little small to me.”

It might feel like a small change to you, but tuning your language to critique the work while honoring your partnership makes for a better relationship.

In the end, remember that we all want the same thing; to produce something that addresses the need with excellence. Like all relationships, grace and truth are needed for a healthy, productive partnership. As trust and good communications patterns are built, feedback will improve and help us get where we want to be.