Mindful communication

The dos and don’ts of giving creative feedback

“Can you dial up the punchiness?”

“Make all the buttons bigger.”

“Why don’t we jazz things up a bit?”

Ask any designer or copywriter on your team, and chances are, they’ll shudder in exasperation recalling similarly bad creative feedback they’ve received in the past. Or perhaps these are things you have said yourself in a creative review. (It’s okay, we’ve been guilty of it too.)

Whether you’re working on a design overhaul or writing your brand narrative, there comes a time in every creative project when stakeholders are tasked with giving their input. But giving good creative feedback can be tricky when you’re not a designer, copywriter, or otherwise creatively inclined. You may not always be aware that you aren’t speaking the same language as your creative teammates—and end up giving feedback that’s both lofty and vague, or worse, overly prescriptive.

To help you become more effective at giving creative feedback, our marketing and design teams came up with a few strategies drawn from our own experiences. Hopefully, this list will help you avoid asking anyone to “punch up copy” or “make the colors pop more.”

Do give feedback you’re uniquely suited to give

When you’re working on a big project with lots of moving parts, you may feel obligated to give your two cents on everything that comes your way. Especially when it comes to the most visible part of the project: the creative. To prevent the feedback process from getting bogged down in a quagmire of endless back-and-forth comments, remember to stay in your lane when giving notes.

If you’re a marketer or salesperson, for instance, don’t try to be a designer or copywriter. Trust that your teammates in creative roles know what they’re doing. They have specialized skills and experience that you (probably) don’t, so try not to assume that you know better than they do about color theory, or kerning, or the Oxford comma.

Instead, give feedback that draws from your area of expertise and unique perspective. If you’re leading the project, you likely have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of its business goals and requirements. Or maybe you’ve come across market research or customer feedback that’s particularly relevant. It’s better for the project—and everyone involved—if you stick to what you know. And trust that there are enough diverse voices on your team to provide feedback on things you don’t know as well.

Don’t forget to explain why

Giving good creative feedback goes beyond calling out all the things that you don’t like, or that need to be changed. It’s just as important—if not more important—to explain why these changes are necessary. Context leads to better understanding of a problem, and hopefully, a more creative solution.

Refer to your project plan (or creative brief) as you review designs or copy concepts. Ideally, you spent some time clarifying the objectives and nailing down the requirements—target audience, channel, timeline, etc.—of your project before your creative team started executing on designs and copy. So when it’s time to give feedback, you’ll have something to refer back to. The more reasons you can give explaining why an illustration or headline isn’t working, the greater likelihood that your feedback will get across.

For example, if some copy doesn’t align with your project’s goals, you might say: “Our goal is to increase signups, but the CTA says ‘Explore more.’” Or if a design doesn’t really work for your audience, you might say: “Our target audience is narwhals, but the imagery in this design features mostly unicorns.”

It also helps to reference data like past campaign performance, for example, when reviewing creative. Just be sure that the data you’re referencing is accurate. The last thing you want is to initiate yet another round of design changes because of bad data.

Context leads to better understanding of a problem, and hopefully, a more creative solution.

Do be kind

Nobody likes being around a negative Ned or Nancy at the office. But what is it about reviewing creative work that brings out the critic in all of us? Psychology has a lot to do with it: our brains are wired to focus on the negative more strongly than positive information. Too much negativity, though, can leave your teammates feeling frustrated by setbacks rather than excited about the progress everyone is making together.

So what can you do? Be the (positive) change that you want to see. If you love something about a design element or copy option, say it out loud. A little praise goes a long way to helping teammates feel appreciated for their hard work. And over time, these small acts of daily kindness can add up to a strong culture of gratitude.

When you do have constructive criticism to share, be mindful of how you’re conveying the feedback. Resist the urge to simply state the solution. (“Change the button color to blue.”) You’ll come off as too prescriptive, and run the risk of alienating your creative teammates. State what the problem is instead, and explain why (see above) your suggested change is desired or necessary. (“We did some testing that shows blue buttons perform better.”) Providing good reasons for your criticism feels kinder, facilitates discussion, and makes the feedback easier for teammates to understand.

Don’t confuse different kinds of feedback

On especially big projects—like a major website redesign or advertising campaign—you’re likely fielding feedback from multiple stakeholders across your team or company. If you’re the project lead, the ball is in your court to consolidate everyone’s feedback and make it digestible for your creative team.

As you do this, it’s important to distinguish between blocking feedback and advisory feedback. The former are changes that must be addressed before something goes out the door. This might be a design interaction that doesn’t align with your goals or written content that doesn’t meet legal guidelines. The latter kind of feedback includes things that would be nice to have, but aren’t critical to the success of the project.

Make a call on how to prioritize any feedback that isn’t blocking and communicate your recommendations to the designers or writers who will be implementing them. If you decide not take a piece of advisory feedback, be sure to explain why so that people feel heard.

Do trust your judgment

As with any set of rules, allow yourself to break them every now and then. One of our company values at Asana is to trust judgement over following rules and incentives too strictly. The data may support one design approach, for instance, but your gut says that another approach will result in a better overall experience. Remember that intuition is just as valid and valuable an input as hard data or logic. The key is knowing when and how to balance intuition and reason to help your team accomplish its goals.

There may also be times when it’s necessary to give more prescriptive feedback instead of engaging your creative team in a dialogue. If your project is at risk of missing an important milestone or budgets are starting to balloon, then it’s perfectly fine to spell out the creative changes required to get things back on track.

If there’s one thing to take away from this list of dos and don’ts, it’s that giving effective feedback takes mindfulness and empathy for the designers and writers on your team. Ultimately, it comes down to one overall “do”: give creative feedback that will empower your teammates to be more effective—and move your project forward.

More Issues