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Creative Ops

How to give feedback and influence (creative) people

June 21, 2021 · 7 min read

From ideation to feedback to deployment, the creative process can be tedious — but it doesn’t have to be. Especially at large organizations, too many voices can easily become involved in something as deceptively simple as an Instagram post and slow work to a crawl.

Different organizations will have different stakeholders for different projects, but no creative process happens in a vacuum. There are always at least a couple of people bouncing ideas and feedback off of each other — at least, there absolutely should be. Multiple voices ensure that projects end up as polished and as close to perfect as possible, but it’s also easy to create a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation, especially if anyone involved gets defensive around criticism. Here’s how to optimize the feedback process.

Why feedback is important

Fine artists tend to manage their entire creative process themselves, with no external feedback gathered along the way. Maybe they solicit feedback from a peer, maybe not. It’s their vision. In the business world, this is simply not possible. Businesses have specific goals — percentage annual recurring revenue increase, subscriber retention rate maintenance, that sort of thing. Many members of a team work together to ensure those numbers remain healthy. 

Commenting on a sentence in a Google Doc
Commenting on a sentence in a Google Doc

One graphic designer tasked with creating a Google Display ad won’t have all the information necessary to create a successful, high-conversion-rate ad on their own. Just the same, the brand strategist who assigned that ad won’t have the design knowledge necessary to make it pop. All parties involved have to work together and give each other feedback to ensure that the project is a success and drives traffic to their website.

Without a clear feedback process, any given project won’t connect with the intended audience. There needs to be a system in place to ensure high-quality results, especially for visual assets. It’s relatively easy to make comments and suggestions in a text document; images require markup commenting and more technical skills and tools.

Feedback vs. creative review

Feedback is simply a part of creative review.  It’s up to brand managers, social media managers, and other high-level strategists on any given team to create, institute, and enforce a well-defined creative review process. When you have clear expectations in place, everything from time management to critical feedback becomes much smoother.

If you’re just getting started in a managerial role, it’s alright to use a loosely defined creative review process while you figure things out. Once you figure out your team’s pain points and major blockers, however, it’s imperative you design a creative review process geared towards ironing those issues out and shortening the time from ideation to deployment.

The most time-consuming part of creative review tends to be feedback. Understanding how to give effective feedback (and how to receive it) is essential.

How to give feedback

Clearly defined goals

The first thing necessary to build an effective feedback process is a set of clearly defined goals. Have specific examples that illustrate what sort of end result you’re looking for. It helps if one person manages the whole process — whether that’s a project manager or a brand manager, someone with a bird’s eye view has to have the final say on every decision. Then, work with your creative team to build a mood board, lay out what you want the project to accomplish, and otherwise give them as much information as possible to help them meet your expectations.

All of this will be easier if you have a creative brief template. Make different templates for every kind of creative project your organization might need — Instagram stories, marketing emails, LinkedIn posts, etc. Not only will these templates help your designers and copywriters complete individual projects, but they’ll define a clear set of expectations over time and help you establish a consistent brand identity.

Constructive feedback

An efficient creative process includes multiple check-ins. Constructive feedback doesn’t happen after a project is already complete; it happens in real-time, as part of the workflow. Especially for bigger, more time-consuming projects, as a project manager you’ll want to set up multiple feedback sessions. Try three sessions, one after each of these steps:

  • First draft

  • Revised draft

  • Final draft

You can add or subtract sessions as needed. The idea is just to offer constructive criticism on a regular basis throughout the creative process so that your designers stay on the right track. You want to offer corrective insights sooner rather than later, so nobody wastes time building assets that don’t fit your strategic needs.

Two feedback sessions on a Google Calendar plus a team meeting
Two feedback sessions on a Google Calendar plus a team meeting

In these feedback sessions, it’s crucial that you give actionable feedback. Don’t just say “I don’t really like the overall vibe.” Instead say, “This color scheme is too close to a similar one frequently used by our competitors, please stick to our brand guidelines.” Offering specific examples takes out the guesswork and saves time, especially for visual assets. You can easily hop into a Google Doc to see what your copywriters are up to; you can’t just hop into Photoshop to see your designers’ latest edits.

Don’t involve too many parties in the feedback process. Seven people looking at one work-in-progress image will likely have competing things to say and actually create more problems. Whoever is managing a particular project should always hold the final say to avoid confusion. If you do need to involve a larger group of people, do so in one of the earlier feedback sessions, to avoid sending your designers back to the drawing board after they’ve already invested many hours of work.

Foster a collaborative environment

Feedback is easier when your company culture encourages open collaboration. The enemy of constructive criticism is defensiveness — people can get cagey when receiving negative feedback. One way to address this is with a “feedback sandwich”: direct criticism between two points of positive feedback. High level creative review will be more efficient when your whole team actively practices good communication skills.

Some people are naturally very open and understanding; others need teaching. Either way, you need to be able to give direct feedback without backlash. You need to be candid to produce good results.

The point of all this is that open communication produces more and better creative ideas. Failure is a natural part of the creative process! If your team doesn’t feel like every idea has to be perfect, they won’t be afraid to say whatever is on their mind in both brainstorms and feedback sessions.

Use the right tools

If you follow every step described above, you’ll have the bones of a better feedback process. To completely optimize, you must also use the right tools. Your creative team will likely be using Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, Google Suite, and similar software to do their work, but you’ll need a different set of tools.

Use the right digital asset management software to keep everything centralized, including every drafted version and attached feedback. If you’re working on a big, multi-channel ad campaign, you need to be able to see every version of every ad for every platform side-by-side. How else are you going to answer crucial questions such as: are the layouts standardized? Are the image sizes appropriate for each platform? Is there clear visual cohesion across the campaign?

Commenting on "social media assets.png" in Air
Commenting on "social media assets.png" in Air

Tools like Dropbox and Google Drive have been the gold standard for cloud storage and collaboration for a decade now. While these tools are far more efficient than email for sending files back and forth, they lack the full functionality of newer products like Air, particularly when you’re working with visual assets.

Dropbox has some collaboration tools, but it’s mostly a way for geographically distributed teams to maintain shared access to certain files. Google Drive has great commenting capabilities but is inefficient, when compared to competitors like Air, for anything other than textual documents. Air allows for collaboration, feedback commenting, storage, you name it.

Slack promises to be more efficient than email for workplace communication. That’s true, and you can use threads, saved messages, and customizable notifications to keep track of everything, but it’s hard to keep messages deeply organized for future review. Use Air to keep all feedback connected directly to the assets in question.

Giving feedback in Air
Giving feedback in Air

Air is the best-in-class tool for creative review and feedback, full stop. It’s lightweight compared to Dropbox, since all storage and work can happen simply in your browser. Nobody gets locked out of a certain file while someone else is working on it. You can stack file versions, so every draft, from first to final, lives in one place. Want to use an older image draft at the last minute? Not a problem when you can select and share any version in a stack.

Air allows you to create custom fields for every asset you upload, as well as create kanban boards to organize by those custom fields. There’s no need to spread feedback across multiple platforms like Asana and Slack — everything lives in Air. Tag assets as “initial draft,” “needs review,” “final draft,” “published,” or whatever you need for your workflow.

Comment on individual assets or entire boards (Air’s folder equivalent) and tag team members who need to give or receive feedback. More features are always in the works — for visual assets, there’s simply no other choice. No other platform compares with Air for creative review and feedback.

You can institute all the behavioral best practices in the world to optimize your creative review and feedback processes, but you can’t achieve full efficiency without the right tools. Get started in Air today and speed up your process instantly. Syncing assets from your existing storage solutions is painless. With more collaboration-focused features in the pipeline, Air is the only choice for creative workflow. Sign up for free.

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