Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes. - Jack Handey
Clients! How to Give Better Critiques
(My writery friend Kallie Markle and I co-wrote this note)
Let’s talk about FEEDBACK. No, not the kind you hear in a movie when someone taps a microphone, the kind that you, clients, give when reviewing your Creative’s work. We want to help you give more constructive critiques. Why? Because proper feedback leads to happy Creatives, and happy Creatives do better work, which makes you look good.
Unfortunately the opposite is also true. Over the years we have received some truly terrible feedback from clients- critiques that sucked all passion out of the project and words that sent us into spirals of self-doubt and bitterness. Bad feedback isn’t from clients being malicious or moronic (at least not most of you), it’s just that when it comes to feedback … YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
So here are some tips for keeping your Creatives fed and watered and your project on track!
1. STAY POSITIVE
Yes, we Creatives are an odd bunch. We wear funny glasses, drink weird coffee and nano brews, and have heated conversations about music and fonts. But the truth of the matter is that underneath all the tattoos and scarves, we are vulnerable idealists trying to make a living on a BA in art, literature, or film studies. We’re much more fragile than we look.
You see, if your Creative is any good at all, they’re pouring themselves into the work. They see your project as an opportunity for self-expression, a challenge to channel their best into your needs.
You know the little kid that runs to show his parent his crayon drawing? Yep, that’s us. That’s exactly how your Creative feels when they send you a professionally-worded, business-y email titled, “first cut” or “rough draft.” They are actually saying, “Look I drawed you a picture!” So be gentle. You don’t want your Creative to become beat down, because then your project will suffer.
The ol’ compliment sandwich will go a long way in keeping your Creative on track, especially since Creatives love sandwiches. A compliment sandwich is a grass fed, humanely raised critique delivered between two whole grain compliments. (Here’s a better explanation).
You chose your Creative based on work you liked in their portfolio, they will have used similar techniques for this project, and you will no doubt find something you like in this rough cut/crayon drawing of you with only three fingers, standing on a unicorn. Show your Creative that you appreciate the work they’ve done so far. Do this EVERY time you send feedback.
Instead of “I don’t like it. I don’t get it. This is not at all what I was expecting. It’s creepy.” *ACF (*actual client feedback) Try: “Thanks for the review and thank you for putting so much hard work into this. Here are a few items to address…. It’s looking good so far.” Accentuate the positive and position yourself as a collaborator to be trusted, vs a grump to be feared. Be gracious and positive and your Creative will gladly jump through hoops for you, like the needy, crayon-wielding juveniles that we are.
A note about egos: it may seem that Creatives are holding your project hostage, demanding you hover over us, stroking our hair and saying, “oh wow, everything you’re doing is brilliant.” Not at all. We’re very particular about our hair being touched, but also: the uniquely personal nature of our work is nearly impossible to ignore. We can’t put our hearts into the work without taking the critiques to heart. One of our betters had a term for splitting up the soul like that: she called it ‘making a horcrux’, and it was bad.
2. SPEAK SUBJECTIVELY
Which color is better, green or blue?
Art is something we experience; it’s subjective. What I think is the perfect music for an edit you might find dull. Maybe the photo is working for you, but it’s too ordinary to me. That’s OK! I’m OK and you’re OK! That’s the beauty of art, and that’s why it’s important to keep subjectivity in mind when phrasing feedback. Don’t make unequivocal statements like, “the music is bad”, “that unicorn isn’t believable” or “this effect evokes serial killers”* *ACF. When you speak in absolute, objective terms, you close the door to alternative approaches, and you imply that there is only one, “right” way to accomplish the goals: your way. Your Creative will wonder why you hired her/him at all. This is frustrating to Creatives and a surefire way to get Comic Sans on your next version.
Instead, speak subjectively … say things like, “the music felt a little slow to me”, “I think the unicorn may be a stretch” or “I don’t understand this effect.” That this is your experience is indisputable, and reminding Creatives that you are “experiencing” their work will allow them to try seeing things from your perspective. Remember, preference does not equal correctness; no color is better than the next. Speak subjectively and your Creative won’t feel like you’re steamrolling over their vision. Plus, (some???) Creatives love explaining their processes, so inviting them to dialogue about their hows and whys will build rapport.
3. LET US DO THE WORK
When you say: “Their faces seemed dark. I lightened them in Photoshop and attached an update.”(*ACF) We hear: “Your work is so easy anyone can do it. Must be nice getting paid to sit around and play with software.”
We know you’re excited to show that you have some editing chops, you’re handy with a DSLR, or that you write the company newsletter, but when you start doing work for us it makes us feel cheap. It implies that we’re just pixel pushers, font flippers, or glorified thesuari and that the art we pour into your project is nothing more than a cheap commodity that you could buy anywhere. This is related to the next point…
4. DON’T OFFER SOLUTIONS
Imagine if your Creative told you, “This annual report we’re animating seems too similar to last year’s. I’ve worked up some sales strategies to better source the overseas markets and spice things up for next year’s numbers.” You would laugh, screech, or roll your eyes. When you tell your Creative, “It’s trite, so I’ve written a few lines and you can work those in,” you are being screeched and laughed at- silently if it’s a teleconference or meeting, quite loudly if it’s over email.
Creatives understand that projects are processes, and they are balancing many factors you probably don’t see. Let them filter those factors to find the best solution. After all, creative problem solving is not just our favorite pastime, it’s our job.
5. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Here’s a little secret that Creatives know and [usually] accept: the project will never turn out exactly like we’re picturing it in our heads and hearts. As hard as we strive to realize our visions, there are constraints to moving a vision from the ether of our imaginations onto the page, sound wave, or screen. Things get lost and left along the way. Keep in mind that what your Creative delivers to you is never going to exactly match what you’re picturing in your head. It can’t, because that’s impossible. If you are constantly measuring drafts against an arbitrary memory of a once dreamt vision, it doesn’t matter what the Creative turns in, you’ll never be satisfied.
Your role is to identify a strategy (preferably before any creative work is done) and determine if your project is on strategy or not. We’re really sorry to break it to you but whether you personally like the creative direction ultimately doesn’t matter. Unless you are a wealthy landowner in the 15th century who has commissioned an artist to paint your likeness with oil on canvas, then you’re not the target audience. Stay big-picture with the project, make sure it’s on track, and make sure it’s capturing the brand’s voice. Don’t offer quibbling requests like “make the logo bigger” or “sound smiling but not too happy.” Insisting on minutia like this undermines your credibility as a collaborator and it’s simply not your job. That’s why you hired a Creative: they know this stuff better than you. Trust them!
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for a unified vision, but it does mean that, as a client, you should let go of the little details. Measure against the goals and strategy that you [hopefully] set and communicated before you started the project. Is the message of the piece loud and clear? If yes, then, congratulations, you master of unicorns! You and your adorable, weird Creative are on the road to a successful project that will send next year’s sales numbers through the stratosphere, ensuring you a promotion and your Creative more exposure on YouTube!
— Your Creative wants to make money by making art. They can only make money when clients are happy, and they can only make art when they are happy. If you want your project to be a work of art, keep your Creative happy. Everyone wins, everyone gets a unicorn. Here, I drawed you a picture.