5 Steps for Managing Creative Feedback

Editor’s note: In this series, Douglas Davis answers designers’ persistent questions about career development and managing relationships in the workplace. To ask more design career questions, reach out to us on Twitter with hashtag #AskaDesigner.

Question: My boss gives me general creative feedback on my work, but I’m not sure how to ask him for more specific feedback without seeming clueless or defensive. How I can I manage this relationship while moving my creative solutions forward?


Cartoon by Tom Fishburne, marketoonist.com

Step 1: Ask questions before you start working.

If any part of your assignment is unclear, ask for more information up front. You can avoid sticky feedback situations later by doing this work early on. Sometimes the client or suits won’t ask you for exactly what they need. Read between the lines to find actual business objectives (“We need to drive more web traffic to eCommerce site.”) behind their tactical requests (“We need a cool website.”). This is what they need. If those objectives aren’t clear, be sure you get answers before you start creating solutions.

Step 2: Base your creative solutions in tangible facts based on the brand, product, or service you’re working with.

This approach gives sound strategic footing to show your creative ideas. Being orderly and strategic makes all the difference. Do your homework and don’t assume you know everything about the brand or service.

Step 3: Anticipate or avoid negativity. 

It’s important to anticipate hot-button words, avoid negative connotations, and steer clear of previous failed approaches. If you know your boss or client doesn’t want a certain style, there’s no sense in trying to present that.

Step 4: Introduce your work strategically.

When your creative solutions are rooted solidly in the benefits and values of the product or service, you have a natural way to explain how you arrived at your solution. Rather than an idea-suffocating eulogy—better known as pre-ramble—you can open your presentation with a powerful preamble that frames the reason that the concept or theme you’re about to present is viable in both the business and creative senses.

Step 5: Reframe the language.

If your boss or client says the words “like” or “hate,” replace them with “this works” or “this doesn’t work” in your reply. You’ll need to be sure to frame the conversation in such a way that you can get to the root of what makes the overall execution accomplish its objective or not. Saying things work or don’t work also lays the groundwork for you to draw your evaluator out by asking questions that seek to isolate the baby from the bathwater. If your client “doesn’t like” the layout or concept, you can then ask if it’s the typeface, colors, format, imagery, headlines, or connotation that they’re reacting to.

These steps will help make your interactions with colleagues and clients as productive, constructive, and respectful as they can be. Even better, your creative solutions will reflect that collegial approach—and be even more successful as a result.

For more on this topic, visit HOW Design University’s online course Creative Strategy and The Business of Design by Douglas Davis, check out the latest news on his website, and don’t miss his session at HOW Design Live 2016 in Atlanta!