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UPDATED: This article first ran in Velasophy in January 2017

A mentor of mine once said about giving creative feedback: “Don’t use a hammer. Use a feather.”

It’s not that designers are overly emotional or any more sensitive than you or me. However, you do have to remember that they’ve spent several hours and invested a certain amount of emotional equity into whatever they’re showing you. That’s why I’ve found that it’s not really a feather that you need – it’s a broad brush and a collaborative mind.

Here’s how to deliver creative feedback that will move the piece in the direction you really want, with minimal effort and maximum motivation:

  1. Creative Feedback Article Image DirectionCreative feedback is a discussion, not a report card. And if at all possible, it should not be provided in an email. The designer has spent way more time thinking about this than you have, and they probably share some of your concerns. Nuances of a discussion are critical in terms of the next step the creative will take. A five-minute collaboration can save hours of redesign or avoid the risk of sending a talented designer down a psychological dead-end from which they may have trouble coming back. Take the time to think and talk together.
  1. Ask the designer’s opinion first. What do they like about what they’ve done? Which logos are their favorites, and why? What do they think has the most potential? You’d be surprised what new ideas can come up when you further tap that well of brilliance.
  1. Then, start with what you like. Even if the only thing you can think of is the paper it’s printed on, find what you think works with what they’ve done. It’s not only good motivation for someone who’s invested hours of their time in a project, it’s productive. Regardless of the first round, great new ideas can come from a discussion about what’s working in a given ad, logo or video spot.
  1. Identify the problem you see, but resist trying to solve it. You’re not a designer, and you don’t even play one on TV. So don’t provide specific direction like “make it blue” or “make it bigger.” Instead, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Comments like “it feels too edgy” or “it feels a little feminine for this brand” are more helpful.Feedback like “it’s busy,” are even more helpful if they’re followed by “let’s see if we can eliminate some elements.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and cut major amounts of content that I spent hours myself writing because it just didn’t work in the piece and I knew nobody was going to read it.Try to consume the piece like the viewer will. Perhaps you would say, “I’m not getting that you need to go to the website to enter.” That means there’s an issue with communication priorities and how the piece is arranged.In the end, let the designer figure out how best to solve the problem. I guarantee they will come up with a better solution than you will.
  1. If you can, don’t wait until the designer has spent days on a piece in a vacuum and then have some “ta-daaa” moment. Casually check in with creative feedback along the way. They’ll have things in process you hadn’t thought of that might be worthwhile. Plus, it gives you a chance to course-correct early if needed. That way, time and emotional energy aren’t wasted.
  1. And lastly, never, under any circumstances, say “make it pop.” This is not creative feedback. It’s code for, “I don’t know, I just don’t like it.” It’s a cop-out, and it frustrates the hell out of designers. Figure out what’s not working in broad strokes, and zero in on that.

Creative feedback should be something you look forward to. In fact, it’s my favorite part of the day. It should be fun. It should be motivating. And it should be productive.