How to give feedback to creative people: de-brief like a pro

One of the enduring themes for jokes, memes and even spoof videos in the advertising industry concerns clients giving feedback to creative people. Any soul brave enough to square off against a fire-breathing, suit-slaying creative director or their nemesis, the I JUST WANT MY LOGO BIGGER client, will know that it’s not always terribly funny. In fact, sometimes it’s just plain terrible.

Know a creative person who's a bit... sensitive? Here's how to give them feedback. Click To Tweet

Obviously, frustration abounds on both sides of the equation whenever feedback on concepts is being communicated (or should I say mis-communicated, which is what most often happens). Miscommunication between client and supplier affects every single industry. No one is immune, whether you’re in advertising, designing, or perhaps an architecture.

Most of the issues around offering clear and constructive feedback to creative people stem from a combination of lack of time, outdated communication methods and a few bad habits. In the interest of preserving your sanity (as well as keeping ER departments, psychiatrist couches and local bars a little emptier), we’ve thrown together some helpful tips to help you get everyone on the same page.

Giving feedback to creative people

The rules are simple. Stray from them at your own risk.

1. Re-read the brief

Before anyone comments on anything, everyone (yes: everyone!) who is involved should re-read the original brief. If there wasn’t a brief (for shame!) that makes things a little trickier – so try to ensure this always happens in some permanently recorded form.

Respect the brief before giving your creative feedback. Click To Tweet

2. Understand the rationale

Whenever a design or a concept or a proposal is presented, it should always be accompanied by a rationale. This doesn’t need to be longer than the Oxford Dictionary – it can be as simple as a paragraph that justifies the approach with respect to the original brief from the client. If there is no rationale (for SHAME!) then try to ensure that this is covered verbally at the time of presentation.

If, as a client, you intend to ask people around the office for their opinion on the work before you give feedback, then you must ensure that they understand both the brief and the rationale. If this is not possible, refer to tip #3.

3. Don’t ask people around the office for their opinion

Most often, they haven’t read the brief, they haven’t been given a rationale, and therefore they don’t really understand what they’re looking at.  Beside that, when you ask people for feedback, they generally feel obligated to say something profound or controversial.  They don’t generally represent the reaction your target audience would have.

4. Respect for everyone

At the end of the day, any piece of work is the end result of the effort of a chain of people. It starts with the client and goes through a chain of hands and minds to end up where it is. Try to begin any conversation with positivity – even if the original brief was hopeless and the work being presented isn’t quite on the mark.

5. Disregard your personal taste

Doubtless, you are a very stylish person. Despite this, your tastes and opinions aren’t necessarily representative of the person who is the ultimate user or the target audience. Don’t review anything or create anything to suit yourself. Rather, put yourself in the shoes of the person at the end of the equation and remember to do the same when you’re giving feedback to creative people.

7. Don’t try to solve the problem

If there is a problem with some work you’re reviewing, don’t be tempted to try to re-work it or re-design it yourself. Try to articulate the problem without directing the solution, and leave it in the hands of the experts.

8. Offer examples

Sometimes, whether you’re on the client side or the supplier/designer/creative side, getting what’s in your head across into someone else’s head is a big task. Don’t be afraid to reference examples of other work in your rationale to explain your approach or, if you’re a client, use examples in your brief or your feedback to explain what you’re looking for (or what you absolutely don’t want!).

9. Show as well as tell

As we all know, words are great, but pictures are worth a thousand of them. Make as much use of imagery as you possibly can and supply commentary with your images to explain why it is you’re referencing them.

10. Put your thoughts down on record

Unless ace shorthand speeds or NSA-like conversation recording capabilities are part of the equation, it’s unwise to give feedback in an undocumented fashion. Write it all down, or make mark-ups to documents.

Where to from here?

All of this can sound like a bunch of extra work, but in reality it’s a small amount of effort when compared with the heartache it can save and the relationships it can preserve, and there is now a brand new way to make it very simple.

Blrt is the perfect tool for giving both visual and verbal feedback. Blrts can be created from websites, images or multi-page PDFs straight from your photo gallery, camera, email or Dropbox. Just upload, press record and start talking, zooming and drawing, even flipping pages as you need to.

Blrt’s operation is instinctual, and your multi-touch gestures are captured perfectly in sync with your voice, leaving no-one in any doubt about exactly what you mean. And while they feel like videos, they’re not, so they use a fraction of the bandwidth, enabling them to be saved to the cloud, so that they can be accessed from any device.

What’s more, you can send your Blrt to anyone. Recipients will see and hear exactly what you recorded. They can continue the dialogue and reply with their own audio-visual feedback or they can just type a comment. The back and forth dialogue is saved, giving you a chronologically sequenced and permanently available thread of what has been agreed between all parties.

Get everyone on the same page

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