Feedback. The dirty word of design

Feedback. The dirty word of design

I always find it uncomfortable hearing feedback. Always. 

It’s difficult to hear feedback, even when you’re given a favourable review!


It’s very rare that someone ‘gets’ what you were hoping to achieve – whether it’s communicating through design, photography, video or indeed the written word.


It’s hard not to be even a little discouraged, even when receiving feedback from those with the miraculous ability, possessed by a rare few, to always exude positivity (even when they’re giving the most cutting, disheartening appreciation of your work).


The problem? Feedback is always subjective.


It doesn’t matter how objective the ‘feedbacker’ is trying to be, there is always room for subjectivity, both on their part and on yours.


There will always be emotions tied to creative endeavours. On the creative’s side, a lot of energy and emotion has been expended in order to produce the work. On the other side, creative work tends to produce emotions – we could even go so far as to say that’s the entire point.

Ok, almost, as design has a purpose beyond art, but generally we should be trying to evoke emotion in how we communicate even the most ‘normal’ information).


This subjectivity is multiplied by the nature of creativity – there is usually more than one way to do something – more than one right answer. This doesn’t mean we can go as far as to say there are ‘no right or wrong answers’, as there are generally ‘better’ or ‘worse’ answers.


What we can expect, however, is for two different creatives to come up with two entirely different responses to a brief, that both legitimately fulfil the requirements. There are certainly objective criteria that can be used to help guide us towards which one might be better suited for the task in hand, but it’s still possible for them both to be suitable enough.


Radio Silence

So if feedback is always subjective, at least to some extent, should we just do away with it? After all, the last thing we want to do is to offend those who have poured such efforts in to serving God with their creative gifts.


I’ve seen this done, and in my experience it leads to one or both of the following (usually both) – an unhealthy culture and poor production values.


An Unhealthy Culture

Neglecting to give honest feedback is well-intentioned, and seeks to ‘keep the peace’, but it can lead to a lack of trust, and a lack of clarity as to the way forward. It’s difficult to work towards a goal when you’re not sure if it’s being met, because you’re not receiving any communication about your past work.


Poor Production Values

A lack of clear, focused feedback leads to a cycle of diminishing quality. If the work isn’t meeting expectations, and this isn’t communicated to the designer, the problems won’t be fixed. Instead, the same standard of work will continue with each project, which means we’ll lower our expectations – we’ll no longer aim for excellence in our church communications. Over time, this can lead to resentment on both sides, resulting in yet more unhealthiness in the culture of the ministry.


The Solution

Ok, we’ve seen why feedback can be difficult, and we’ve seen what might happen if we’re tempted to avoid it. What’s the solution, then?


Cultivate a grace-filled culture where feedback is both expected and accepted – even welcomed.


Easier said than done, right? Let’s break it down.


We need to show grace in our feedback. As we thought earlier, there’s potential for hurt, and this goes both ways. Therefore, we need to:

Show grace in how we give feedback

If it’s our job to feedback, we need to make sure we do so in the best way possible – even if the design ‘offends our eyes’.


This means never giving negative feedback as a reflex – it should always be considered. If possible, we should try to give this in person, but this isn’t always possible, therefore we must take extra care with our written communication.


If we were doing this in person, we wouldn’t dive straight into feedback, but would hopefully at least say ‘hello’ first and have a quick catchup. With this in mind, don’t make the whole email about picking apart their design.


We must also make sure we thank the creative for their work – it’s likely that even the smallest of jobs involves sacrifice, whether that’s working late after the kids have gone to bed or saying no to a social outing in order to get the design done on time. Acknowledge how much you appreciate this!


Show grace in how we receive feedback

As creatives, then, as much as we may dislike receiving feedback, we need to remember that it’s not easy to give it either.


Therefore, the same applies; be gracious, and don’t react to feedback as a defence reflex.


We must do our best to not take feedback personally, which is very difficult. Feedback can often feel like a personal attack, but more often than not, this is just pride working hard to drive a wedge between God’s people.


It’s important to respond to feedback, and if we disagree, to clearly explain which points we take issue with. This should be done in the same measured way as feedback is given.


It’s good to defend our opinions, and to show the thought that has gone into the process, but in doing this we need to consider whether our work communicates these things as well as we believe. It’s very easy to read the things that we’ve written in to the work ourselves, but perhaps the message isn’t clear to others.


At this stage, I want to emphasise that we should not be taking feedback passively. This means that we don’t just implement all of the changes/suggestions without consideration. Doing this on a regular basis will lead to us putting less effort towards our work, as we feel that it’ll just have to be re-done anyway. It also doesn’t recognise the invaluable part that the designer plays in realising a brief, and communicating the information in the most effective way possible.


With this said, it is important to be clear on who has final say. Everyone will have an opinion. Everyone. But there should be someone who has creative control (and this may not always be the vicar/pastor!) and this should be respected.


Expect Feedback

Feedback shouldn’t come as a shock – it is an essential part of the design process, and should be integrated within your project management routine.


Of course, for this to happen, you’ll have had to leave enough time between the design and the deadline for effective feedback to occur.


Spend effort cultivating this culture

This culture will not appear overnight, neither will it self-maintain. It will take effort to build these habits into the communications process. It takes ongoing relationships to build mutual respect – not to mention forgiveness for the times when feedback does cause hurt. And it will.


The Foundation for Feedback

The important foundation for all of this is to remember that we are building towards the same goal. We all want to communicate the message of Christ in the best way possible, to reach as many people with a message they can hear and engage with.

2 Responses

  1. Timothy Reynolds

    Thanks for these helpful comments, Joe. I couldn’t help thinking that a very similar article could be written about feedback own preaching. I don’t think you’d need to change much at all!

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