Agency Feedback

Marketers work in a world that thrives on feedback. We are constantly working through feedback cycles, both with our clients and our own internal creative teams. Creative teams invest countless hours executing on feedback. And a lot of that feedback sucks.

Here’s why your feedback is falling short, and how you can make it better.

Evaluate Designs Based on How They Meet Objectives

Objectives. Objectives. Objectives. How can you provide actionable feedback on a design without an understanding of the objective of the design? If you don’t know what it’s intending to accomplish, how in the world can you offer feedback?

Seth Godin reminds us that “It’s important to criticize an idea based on how well it meets its objectives. If you don’t like the objectives, criticize those separately.” This is the only way to have a grounded, objective-based discussion. It’s like having a common denominator to judge all feedback against. Any feedback that is not based on how well a design meets objectives should be discarded.

Your Feedback Makes The Design Different, But Not Better

This is a question that should be asked throughout the feedback process. Does this feedback make the design better, or simply different? It’s easy to get caught in pointless revisions cycles (word-smithing copy, tweaking a half inch of logo placement, and other appeasement revisions). While many agencies are happy to let clients request tweaks until they’re blue in the face (as long as they pay for each revision), this generally doesn’t end with a superior design. So ask everyone during revisions, are we making this better? Or just different? Are we moving toward a highly superior design, or are we just spinning our wheels?

You’re Suffering From Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one’s beliefs. In creative presentations, agencies typically present multiple designs. This provides opportunities to evaluate multiple ideas.

But everyone has their own personal design preferences, favorite colors, and pet peeves. So we naturally gravitate towards the designs that most agree with what we already like and believe. This is, of course, a trap because (1) we are not our customers and we should be solving for our customers, and (2) we are not considering other designs which may have huge potential because the designs don’t conform with our personal preferences. The key here is objectivity, if you are able to be objective with your evaluation of designs, you will find yourself with an entirely new set of criteria and entirely different feedback.

You’re Not Asking Questions

When a design is first presented, you’re going to want to immediately say “I like this one, and I don’t like this one, and this one is ok.” But you’ve acted too quickly. You’ve evaluated a design without first understanding it. Instead, you should ask the creative team why they designed what they did. What objectives were they trying to accomplish? What does the design represent? What inspired the design? Once you have a foundation for better understanding the design, you can then provide more objective feedback that is in context, which will ultimately get you a better design.

You Don’t Know WHY You Don’t Like It.

We tend to explain why we like (or don’t like) a design in terms of the characteristics of the design. Take this example from sociologist Duncan Watts:

“When people try to explain why the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, they talk about her mysterious smile, the gauzy technique, the background. And yet they are not really explaining the painting’s appeal; they’re just describing the painting. What they are really saying is that the Mona Lisa is a great painting because it is more like the Mona Lisa than any other painting in the world.”

Giving helpful feedback is challenging. But here’s the key: “I don’t like it” is NOT feedback. And guess what? Neither is “I like it.” Because you haven’t explained why.

Sometimes you present a design to a client and they simply say “I don’t like it.” And that’s fine. There are things we don’t like. However “I don’t like it” is not actionable feedback. There’s a rationale as to why the client doesn’t like a design, maybe they don’t like the color green, or they had a bad experience with a Bauhaus font once, whatever. The point is you have to dig to understand why it is the client is unhappy, and once you uncover that they detest the color green and don’t like sans-serif fonts, you’ll be that much more successful in the next round.

Is That Enough Feedback For You?

There you have it. Next time you’re giving feedback, think about the person who will ultimately have to make the edits. Think about the objectives. Think about your customers, are you designing with them in mind? Put your own preferences aside and you’ll find yourself evaluating designs on a whole new level. And you’ll make some new friends on your creative team.

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