“Easier said than done” - or at least that’s what they say. It often feels this way when others critique and give feedback on something you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into. After spending what seems like mere milliseconds glancing over your hours of work, some colleagues seem to be able to locate all that isn’t well with pinpoint accuracy, leaving you to wonder if they even recognized the painstaking and deliberate efforts that went into your work.
Let’s face it, creating something new takes a measure of courage and often we have flawed, biased views of what is working and what isn’t. This makes it all the more important for ourselves and others to be able to give feedback that isn’t only heard, but valued and listened to. When done well, critiques are an invaluable part of the creative process, and essential in creating high quality, original work that resonates across platforms and audiences.
Criticism is easy. Giving good and thoughtful feedback is a lot more difficult.
Here are some strategies and practices we employ here at Capsule to be sure our critiques yield the best creative results:
Provide Context: When offering critique, be sure to firmly ground your comments in the context of the project. It’s not enough to say that you don’t like a certain element. Well thought out feedback requires an explanation. You don’t say that you “don’t like the color red” you say instead that “this shade of red isn’t working,” or better yet, “The client is looking for something approachable and warm, this shade of red feels too bright and bold.” Adding this extra context reminds the team of the larger goals of the project and ensures that refinements are made thoughtfully and intentionally.
Warm to Cold: Despite best efforts to keep a level head, it can be challenging to hear and absorb harsh feedback about something for which you have invested your time and energy. To ensure that your comments are heard and understood, begin your critique with something that is working, or if that isn’t available, something that you know the group can all agree upon. After that, ladder your feedback towards the items that need the most work. Organizing your comments from warm to cold. Doing so can ease a tough blow in a way that doesn’t detract from what needs to happen to improve.
What you notice vs. what you like: When processing something subjective as a group, it is useful to begin with what you notice about it versus what you like. This is helpful in analyzing the reactions of the group and avoiding personal bias.
Question before direction: Between hearing a teammate present their work and giving direction and feedback, it is important to ask questions. “Why did you choose this color here?” “Did you try moving this element over here?” …etc. There is a great deal of trial and error when creating something, learning more about what your teammate tried prior to presenting will focus your comments, while also involving yourself in their process and mode of thinking.
Compassion over Ego: It’s natural for each of us to prize our own ideas and it’s all too easy to take offense to a difference in opinion, or to experience some wounded pride when our ideas get broken down and nit-picked. It’s the responsibility of each member of your team to carry compassion for both themselves and others through this process. If you find yourself offended and deflated by a note of feedback, remember that you are human and that you wouldn’t feel this way if you weren’t taking real risk and investing passion into a project you care about. It’s up to each member of your team to own their vulnerability and to work towards keeping individual pride out of the equation when making creative decisions as a group.