Minimizing the Damage "20 Horrible Types of Feedback Every Creative Dreads"

Did you see this post?

It is funny. And we've all been there—gotten feedback on a project that is irrelevant, unhelpful, flips direction, or is over ambitious.

This post appeared in my Facebook feed a couple of times last week. One friend said that this is why she hated designing logos. Others commiserated on the feedback. We've all felt that sinking feeling when the client brings back feedback from out of left field. But our job as creatives in a service economy is to figure out how to productively move ahead.

I think that designers in particular can be afraid to communicate clearly. We've developed the skills to communicate visually but what we need to do is develop the communication skills that allow us to articulate our process, project parameters and agreed upon goals.

I've had several jobs this year take really strange turns. A client comes to me to solve one problem and partway through the process we diverted to solve another problem without ever finishing the first. Or, like a project on my desk at the moment, I've been hired to solve one problem and now the client has decided that that problem isn't as important as others—and the solution we are working on can work for a much broader purpose.

Weird feedback is frustrating but it is important to understand where it is coming from. And what it means to your project. One way to minimize these flip flops or at least handle them with grace, is to have a brief.

I know, I know, you were never taught how to write a brief. Your past jobs didn't use briefs. The client isn't paying you to write. I get it. Really, I do. But to do your job to the best of your ability you need to understand the parameters of the project. Even more helpful, you need your client to agree with you as to exactly what problem they are hiring you to solve. Putting everything in writing makes sense.

We had a really basic introduction to briefs in college. (And I will always be indebted to Ken Hine for drilling this into my skull.) Before you do any sketches you must define the following five* things:

• Project
• Audience
• Objective
• Message
• Means

Depending upon your project you might drill down into these a bit more, for instance adding messaging hierarchy or sub audiences. Or, you might add additional categories like mood or style. Most of the time I also include a process statement and an anticipated schedule. Briefs don't have to be rigid and should be tailored to the specific project at hand. (There are lots of great references on the web.)

But creating a brief is only the beginning.

For many years every time I sat down with a client or began a new project I opened up a new legal pad and wrote down those five words as prompts for note taking. Several years ago I realized that by not sharing them with my client I was only doing half the work. To get the most out of a brief you must share it with the client. It is the only way to ensure that you are working together as a a team towards the same goals.

And don't forget to refer back to the brief regularly. Today I'm going to be working on pinboards for a project. Before I even open up Pinterest I will pull up the brief and reread it. And Friday when I send the pinboard off to the client I will restate key points in the brief. Then next week when I start sketching I will once again sit down and read the brief. This way I never take my eye off the prize and I keep the entire process on target.

And finally, when I present concepts to my client I will paraphrase the brief once again to remind them of our goals. (Remember, they may change those goals. And changes are ok—design is a process. But if the goals change the brief changes. And if the brief changes the estimate changes.)

So for your next project create a brief. Share it with your client. Let me know how it goes.

*Do you get Paul Jarvis' weekly email? He argues that you only need to define two things: 1. Who it’s specifically for, and 2: What the intended outcome is. I think both structures capturethe same information from slightly different angles.