What is BAD Creative Feedback?

by Daniel VanDyke

Human Connection

Creativity thrives in teams, and in professional settings especially. A team can field a wider range of skillsets, deliver a wider range of work, and polish the work of each individual through feedback and collaboration.

But if the feedback and revision process is executed poorly, it can be a toxic and counterproductive experience—one that most artists and designers are all too familiar with.

So, what are some tendencies found in bad creative feedback, and how can they be overcome?

Bad Feedback Arrives Without Context

“I don’t like it,” “It needs more color,” or “punch it up a bit” are all common criticisms that can leave artists in a frustrating position—unless the changes are put in the greater context of Purpose.

Regardless of what the project or piece is, it has a specific purpose or objective. It may be to inform a certain group, to sell a product, to entertain, or to introduce a brand, and the feedback that is directed towards that project should be continuously redirected towards the project’s purpose.

This contextualization keeps the feedback and project focused and can help pull problematic personal preferences and ego out of the equation.

Bad Feedback is Vague

Giving artists creative freedom over their work is valuable and freeing.  But when those artists return with concepts or drafts that are immediately met with vague, non-specific criticism, the process can degenerate into a guessing game, where the artists are simply chasing their reviewer’s preferences rather than executing the work to the best of their ability.

Once again, take it back to context and identify the specific elements of the work that aren’t cutting it, and state why. This invites real problem solving and clarity into the process.

Bad Feedback Often Comes From Those Not Suited to Provide It

Artistic trades from logo design to photography, web development, and print all have standards and best practices that artists and creators live and breathe. And when stakeholders without that background challenge those best practices, even with the best intentions, it can be extremely frustrating and can put the artists in a no-win situation.

While every creative project does ultimately need to win the approval of the client or a primary stakeholder, approvals and criticism must come from individuals with the proper background to provide it. Otherwise, it’s OK to stand back and trust the artist to their craft.

Bad Feedback is Just Micromanaging

Uninvited and frequent drive-by critiques of minor (and often placeholder) issues during the development process disenfranchises the artist working on it, and may derail their vision before it has a chance to materialize. This can also lead to unnecessary delays as frequent insubstantial changes (font, layout, images, content, and message) can ripple out, kneecapping dependent elements of the larger project and leading to uncertainty and delay.

A better solution is to schedule reviews and withhold all critiques until that point, unless the artist requests input. During the scheduled review, identify any problems (in context) and allow the artist a chance to recommend and draft solutions themselves.

Bad Feedback is Personal

A first draft is just that, a first draft. Always give praise where it is due during a review process and put the focus on specific design elements, not the creator or their work as a whole. Good criticism seeks not only to improve the work and satisfy a client, stakeholder, or audience, but to also give the creator behind that work a chance to express themselves, improve, and grow.