As any creative director knows, there are times when I have to give constructive feedback to creative people about their work. Similarly, I have been receiving end-of-creative feedback just as long. There were times when I left the room inspired, feeling respected, and clear on my way forward to make the work better. There were also times when I left the room feeling demoralized, belittled, or worse yet, having no idea what I’m supposed to do next. 

How you give feedback to your creative team is paramount to getting the best they have to offer – some need a pat on the back, some need a kick in the ass, or a myriad of inspirational options in between. So how should you be giving and receiving creative feedback? Here are 8 tips from my experience on both ends of that equation.

Give it

After spending so many hours working on your ideas, developing them, and honing them, there is absolutely nothing worse than silence. Your idea goes into some black hole where other people decided it will not get presented, and they didn’t have the respect to tell you. If an idea is killed with no feedback, that means no understanding, no learning, and no growth, and then anger festers. Creatives prefer even bad feedback to no feedback at all.

Realize that it’s hard

It is a truly difficult task to give creative feedback. Someone spends hours pouring their artistic soul into the work, then sets their baby down on the table. Okay, over to you. Be sure to identify the good ideas, and say something smart about each one that makes the work better. Then, send them out the door with clear understanding, feeling inspired to take it to the next level.

As a creative director you will need to provide your feedback in about 20 minutes or so, and then repeat the process with two teams, three teams, or even five teams in a row, all with 20 different ideas at different degrees of finish – from half-baked to really smart. It is hard, I get it, but try to remember creativity is totally subjective and there are no real right and wrong answers.

Be the boss of the work first, the person second

Show you sincerely care about making what is in front of you better, not about flexing your power, stroking your ego, and being someone’s ‘boss.’ The work is all that matters. That will keep people focused on the right things and convince them your feedback is not wrongly motivated.

Words matter

How you word your feedback is critical. You can say something one way and get a horrible response. Say it another and get understanding and inspiration. ‘That sucks,’ ‘how cheesy,’ and ‘that feels done,’ are definitely not good ways to word it. ‘This has promise, but we need to keep working on it’, or ‘this feels a little expected for the category’ is much better. Avoid words that have an immediate insulting tone to them. You know those words. Again, if it comes from a place of truly trying to make the work better, you will likely choose the right words. If it comes from some egotistical place of posturing or trying to make jokes in your criticism of the work, you will likely use the wrong words.

Be prepared

Make sure you know what meeting you’re in, what the assignment is, you’ve read the brief, and done some background work on the client. Don’t show up late with a cup of coffee and just start winging comments. That will be obvious and just annoys people. Respect the amount of work that went into it by providing equally informed work on your end.

Be present

Don’t be multitasking, answering texts, or chatting on social media. Your feedback loses any real impact as soon as you pay intermittent attention.

Show some enthusiasm

Ideas are the fun part, the exciting bit, dig in, enjoy, add, build, and bring some energy to the process. Don’t sit and judge like you’re on the Supreme Court. If you really like something, say it! Presenting to a dry, quiet, unenthused audience is no fun.

Positive beats negative

Your attitude is the filter that your feedback goes through. If you’re honest and positive, the feedback will come out that way. If you’re judgmental and negative, the feedback will come out that way. It’s all about empathy. Channel your inner Ted Lasso, and just think how you would want to hear the feedback, then say it that way. Note: On the hopefully rare occasion, when the work is phoned in, it’s okay to be negative. The lack of effort deserves it.

One day you’re giving creative feedback, the next you may be receiving it. So, remember that dynamic, and be motivating not demoralizing.

Cover image source: lchumpitaz