How to give (and receive) feedback

Feedback is tough. I’ve taught and mentored junior designers, students, interns, and colleagues. I’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom, in museum spaces, and in galleries. I’ve been schooled on the ins and outs of proper feedback. And I have failed tremendously in the basics of how you give feedback, allowing my own taste and temper to get the better of me. Giving (and receiving) feedback is a learning process that you can start improving immediately.

Feedback doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is a collaboration and a dialogue, no matter the starting point. When presented with empathy, it is as invaluable a part of the process as the creation of the work. It makes good work better — maybe even great. The same goes for creators.

We ask for and give a lot of feedback to clients, and we have learned how to do it well. (Let’s be honest, it doesn’t always go well.) Whether you are giving or receiving feedback on creative work or are generally interested in improving the way you interact and review on a professional level with colleagues, here are some of our suggestions for improved collaboration. 

Be involved

The best feedback comes from invested partners in a project. The worst feedback comes from those lobbing “ideas” from the cheap seats. Those who involve themselves randomly ultimately stall and kill projects. Can you tell I’m passionate about this point?

Involvement is simple. Show up to meetings, respond to questions, and review the following protocol for delivering good dialogue.

Pause. Take a breath

Don’t jump in. Think first.

It should be pointed out that one of the editors of this blog asked, “Is there more here?” Honestly, yes and no. If you’ve taken the time to think about it, you’re on the right track. Most of us, by default, tend to open our mouths sooner than we should. We blurt out the first thing that pops into our heads. It’s rarely useful. If you give yourself (and your colleague/partner in the project) a moment, the end result will be more guided and appropriately direct. 

Listen up

A continuation of the first point — this is where it all begins. Listen to hear. Hearing what is said, what work went into the process, and the outcome should inform the follow-up. If you have difficulty biting your tongue, your words will likely come out as opinions and taste versus strategy. Stay in strategy. You are here to help.

Likes and dislikes

We all have them. This is the big one — arguably, the biggest one. If you’re dealing with an individual who has studied art for any length of time, this will be deeply embedded into them. It’s lesson one in critique. The strategy, goal, and direction matter.

Here’s a personal example. My favorite colors are black and pink. I’m not kidding. In fact, as I type this, I am awaiting the shipment of a metallic pink guitar from the 1960s. The 80s and that loud hot pink and black combo are high watermarks for me. But that doesn’t matter when it comes to what I design. Over the last 20 years, I’ve managed to work in pink two to three times, and never because of my own wants or desires. And I’ve been a part of a couple hundred branding projects. What I like and dislike does not matter. So, check your preferences at the door. I repeat, stay in strategy. 


This might seem contradictory to an earlier point, but questioning is the healthiest space to reside in. Also, it’s super fun.

Question direction. Question intent. Question your conventions. Question it all. But, do not allow questioning to become a spiral of indecision. Indecision is easy; it’s lazy, and it lacks confidence.

Give input

Now it’s time to speak. Don’t feel like you need to have some grand statement prepared. Hitting simple points can ultimately lead to a more effective conversation. Just remember, curb opinion, and don’t be afraid to start with a few questions. 

You’ll likely find yourself in a few of these critique models, all a form of call and response but with a different order of operation:

1. The maker presents

Probably the most common model in the field. As the creator, I present my work while the viewers listen. Following the presentation, viewers discuss, and potential improvements begin to take shape.

2. The viewers discuss

The work’s creator is silent, allowing the viewers to input before the discussion. This can be tough for the creator, but the opportunity for unfiltered feedback is invaluable. Essentially you aren’t allowed to talk or defend the work because that shows resistance to any change.

3. A short statement

Often, when we view work, the creator is absent. For example, when you visit a museum or gallery, you read a brief caption or description from the creator.

The best feedback isn’t one-sided. It’s a careful review of the problem and a collaborative approach to improvement. With the appropriate energy and effort, projects and dialogues will achieve greater outcomes with less time spent and better overall working conditions.

Chris Jackson
Chris Jackson

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