What's the best way to give feedback?

What’s the best way to give a graphic designer feedback? Is there a hierarchy like content, then shape, then shades and color? I love working with great designers, and want to keep them happy and motivated in the process.
— @Rachelelizpeters

Feedback is similar in any industry. It has to be constructive, honest and fair. Nobody likes negative feedback, but they will accept it they feel you are being honest, sincere and have their best interests at heart.

The best way is in the form of (forgive my crudeness) a ’Shit Sandwich’ - Positive, negative, positive.

An analogy could be: It’s like giving someone directions to somewhere. You know where they need to go, but you can’t take them there. Instead you have to guide them so they get there and make them feel that they have achieved success on their own. If they get lost, then simply direct them back to where they need to be and let them find their way there.

Find out the person’s goals and motivations and help them achieve them. Knowing how they respond to criticism is vital. Do they need a kick up the arse or an arm round the shoulder? Should you talk to them individually or can they handle criticism in front of others?

I would usually say something along the lines of:

“It’s my fault for not explaining what I wanted… What you’ve done is a great start, but this needs improvement here and here. I’ve seen you do it before in project X and I loved that. Can you bring that to this project? Do you have any questions or are we clear on what’s needed? Thanks for being so understanding, I’m excited to see how you get on”.

By doing this:

1) I take on some of the blame. This makes them feel that I understand them and they are more likely to buy into my criticism as I am being self-critical.

2) I compliment them to keep their esteem high and then…

3) With sincerity, I honestly explain what I need them to do and why it’s important. This is my chance to be critical and get across what needs to be done. If I need to give some harsh truths, then I will. It isn’t personal. This is where you can mention the problems at hand such as content, colour etc.

But as always, be respectful when criticising someone when they feel they know more than you as it can come off as condescending or patronising. Instead of saying “I don’t like that colour” say “I know the client isn’t keen on that colour, can you come up with a nice alternative? They mentioned liking (insert your colour choice here)?” 

By using the client as the ‘bad guy’ you can be fairly direct without incurring any blowback as you are simply following the client’s instructions.

4) Then I remind them when and how they’ve been successful in the past and / or give an example of another time another colleague was in a similar position and came through it. The makes them feel better as this problem happens to everyone and it fixable.

5) I finish by giving them the chance to ask any questions in case they are still unsure and give them a final boost by telling them how excited I am by seeing the new outcome. 

6) After that I will go away and find something that will help them get to where they need to be. Reference material (video or image) for example or a quote or comment from someone. I will time it so that I can drop it into them with a “I saw this and thought it may help?” I’m again letting them discover how it can help them. I’ll hint at it, but won’t directly tell them. 

Carol Dweck has a brilliant book called ‘Mindset’ about motivation and teaching. It is worth a read as in it she talks about the importance of praising effort over talent. 

7) When they represent the work and they have finished it to a standard I am happy with, we both win. If not I will praise the effort they have put in and repeat the process until we get there.

I hope that helps? If you have a scenario in mind, I’d be happy to comment on that more specifically.

Thad CoxComment