Constructive criticism sounds to many people like something you are meant to give a first grader, but we need to use this technique throughout our lives, with our partners at work, and even with our adult family members. If you want to ask someone to make a change (i.e., give some criticism), it’s best to do it in a constructive way, to keep the peace and nurture important relationships.
I work with a group of artists and writers on a daily basis, and every once in a while someone comes into my office complaining about how a client is going over the line with their critique. Almost as often, I get a client coming into my office asking me why an artist got their feathers all ruffled just because they wanted to make a logo bigger. How can this be avoided?
- Avoid disputes from the beginning. Make the project expectations crystal clear before anyone gets started. If the project is defined on paper on a creative brief or job description sheet, it will be easier for someone to execute. Ask at this stage what your creative team needs from you. And be specific about what is expected to be delivered at what deadline. At the next level, it’s easier when critiquing to point out what is missing, if anything. Then, leave room for a second round of drafts.
- Make changes clear. When you receive something and you know there will be many changes, take some time to be specific about what is obviously wrong or missing. If you have your job description on paper, this will be simple.
- Don’t be too clear. If you’ve delegated work to someone, don’t take all the fun (er, job satisfaction, that is) out of it by dictating font sizes or changing colors just because you feel like you need to make some comment. Ask yourself if your end audience will see a difference in the changes you are suggesting. If not, zip it! And remember, you have sent this work to this person for a reason – because you are too busy, because they are a specialist, because they have access to more resources – let them do their work.
I’ll just say this now, in case no one has ever told you – graphic artists/designers as a rule do NOT like it when someone stands behind them and watches them make changes – that’s pretty much universal.
- Be clear about what is right. If you find yourself filling a piece of paper with red marks, invest in a green pen. Is the headline good? Do you like the font choice, or photo selection? Circle a few things you definitely want to keep. These choices took time, and your appreciation of these items will make your creative partner feel a bit more at ease.
Start your feedback conversation by mentioning one of these items, and come back to one of these at the end of your discussion for a good ‘compliment sandwich.’
- Language is important. If you didn’t create it, you may not understand the creator’s motivation behind the way the project was done. Some language that has been helpful for me:
- I see what you’re doing here, but what if you tried some less formal language?
- I like this color combination, but it might be a bit bold for this product.
- This section is great, but I think we may have gone into too much detail for our audience. Can you break it down for the outsider to understand better?
- This image is really exciting, but I’m not sure if it fits the character of the rest of the piece. Do you have some others you can show me?
- Disaster plan. If what you have received is nothing near what you thought you asked for, then something could have gone wrong from the job description point. Keeping communication open is imperative, so everyone is in the same frame of mind. Maybe the project manager will step in with — “I must have really steered you in the wrong direction, we’re going to have to reboot this,” or something like that – to get everyone on the same side, and restart the project rather than slicing and dicing what’s been done.
The creative process doesn’t have to be painful. It can be a fun, collaborative adventure if it’s approached in the right way. I hope these hints will help you down that path!