How to give good feedback —
In every creative project, there comes a time when you have to provide feedback. Everyone involved in the project likely hopes that feedback will be purely positive. Nailed it first round, a hole in one. In most cases though, this isn’t how things go. Sometimes you need to give constructive criticism and it isn’t always an easy thing do.
Providing feedback is often the part of the creative process where relationships break down. It’s an age old cliché – client is unhappy but doesn’t know how to communicate it, back and forth ensues, designer blames client, client blames designer – a tense journey to an end result that neither party is thrilled with.
As a client you may not think it’s your responsibility to craft your communication, but it is. The outcome of every creative project relies heavily on the relationship behind it. If everyone takes responsibility for their part in it, results will be infinitely better – and isn’t that what we’re all here for?
So how can you, as a client, help to avoid undue stress and play a part in building a healthy professional relationship that garners great results? Here’s a few things we’ve found valuable over the years:
The feedback sandwich
Despite the fact that feedback isn’t personal, designers are sensitive souls really. If you have something negative to say, cushion it with something positive on either side. This doesn’t mean you have to lie if you’re unhappy. If you have absolutely nothing positive to say about the work, try saying something positive about the process/person or previous work. So, positive sentiment first then direct and clear constructive criticism, wrapped up with a productive ending.
- Bad feedback example: It’s not quite right, I don’t know why, just not feeling it.
- Good feedback example: Thanks for getting that to me on time. I’m liking the typography and colours used. The layout isn’t sitting that well with me just yet, can we have a chat about this? Looking forward to working with you on version 2.
You’ve hired a professional to work on your business with you, don’t forget their value in the feedback stage. With concepts in front of you, you may be tempted to start passenger seat designing – don’t – it’s not helpful to the outcome, and definitely not for the relationship. It’s okay to ask to see a certain design revision, but it’s better to trust your designer to do the problem solving.
- Bad feedback example: Make the logo bigger, use this specific colour, see my attached mock-up.
- Good feedback example: I’d be keen to see a colour with more warmth and I’m concerned about the brand presence. Can you chat me through your rationale for the current design?
- Provide feedback in a consistent and consolidated way (i.e. one project lead consolidating thoughts and communicating via an agreed communication channel).
- If you need it, take some time to sit with the design. Gut reaction can often be right, however giving things time can bring new perspective and help balance emotional and rational reactions.
- Don’t let too many cooks spoil the broth. While it’s great to explore ideas with family and friends, when their opinions begin to muddy your own, you’re on a fast track to a Frankenstein design.
- It’s really considerate to send a quick response email when you’ve received or been presented concepts. Just something quick to say you’ve got it, thanks, will touch base by X date. Designers turn grey waiting for feedback on initial designs.
Feedback isn’t (and shouldn’t be seen as) personal, it’s certainly not something a designer should be offended by or a client should be apprehensive about providing, but delivery matters. The designer holds responsibility here too, but that’s a whole other post for another day. As with everything in business and life, communication is key to healthy relationships. Provide feedback with clarity and empathy front of mind, and you will enjoy the process a whole lot more and get better results for it.
JAC& CHATS — Print with Hungry Workshop
Great brands have great people behind them. We started JAC& CHATS to talk to the people we admire who help create and grow brands all over the world. For our second chat, we’re talking to two excellent people (who we’re lucky to work with often) about the execution side of branding.
Jenna and Simon Hipgrave co-founded Hungry Workshop, a design and letterpress printing studio based in Melbourne. The exceptional team at Hungry Workshop are printmakers who understand the creative process and designers who understand production. They foster a creative dialogue to reach a finished product that is true to the vision, maximises value and minimises waste. Hungry Workshop celebrate the creative community — a community who strives to push boundaries, ask questions and take risks.
Tell us a bit about how you work with brands at Hungry Workshop.
We work with brands to create meaningful connections with their audience. We do this through physical, tactile extensions of the brand, enhancing these moments with carefully considered print production on our vintage letterpress printing presses.
We’ll either work with designers and creatives to execute their projects, or directly with clients designing and producing objects, packaging and stationery in-house. We help our clients create everything from letterpress business cards, invitations, thank you cards and gift cards to wine labels, custom jewelry boxes and swing tags.
Our aim is to create objects that communicate the quality of the brand and the people behind it.
How does quality printing add to the value of a brand? And on the other hand, what damage can it do when executed poorly?
With a printed piece you’re creating an extension of your brand, one that exists in your customer’s real, physical world. It has the potential to be much more powerful than any digital experience. It’s always a good idea to honour that privilege and create print that both reflects the values of your brand but also respects the customer. Print is an opportunity to create an artifact of your brand, something that can become a treasured keepsake. Print doesn’t have to be over the top or extravagant. It can be simple, restrained and considered. The beauty of letterpress is really hard to ignore, and dare I say, makes for a shareable moment that loops back into the digital world.
If your print is poorly executed that lack of care reflects on your brand and can also show disregard for your customer. It’s a missed opportunity. If you care about your product, service and customer then it makes sense to follow that through. The impact is particularly amplified now, when personal and physical interactions are so limited.
There are a lot of different printing options out there – a huge pool of businesses to partner with, techniques to choose from and a very wide range of costs too – it’s confusing! Do you have any advice for business/brand owners about finding the right fit for them?
Our advice is to find the best partner for every part of your business that you aren’t handling yourself. Find partners that share your values and understand your objectives. From design through to production, communication is incredibly important.
We truly believe that communication and transparency is essential for a successful letterpress piece. Pick up the phone early, ask questions; visit the printer and look at samples. If they won’t pick up the phone, or you don’t feel welcome to visit prior and during production then it’s likely not someone you should be trusting with your brand.
Finding someone you trust and that aligns with your values should help you make the right decision. For us, we tend to work with clients who value local, sustainable and ethical production as well as craft and high quality execution.
A very ‘how long’s a piece of string question’, but do you have any thoughts on what % of someone’s budget should be dedicated to printing?
Our unofficial motto is ‘print less, better’ – we should always be looking to minimise our footprint in the world. When you are creating printed pieces, do it with care and consideration, reflecting the nature of your brand and the way the business interfaces with its customers. For a digital or service oriented business a good starting point would be somewhere between $700 – $2,000. If you have a business with a higher rate of interactions with your customers, such as a product based, retail or hospitality, then somewhere between $1,400 – $4,500 onwards would make sense.
Any advice or tips for someone starting a new brand, or growing an existing one?
It is always difficult to balance where to invest when starting or growing a business. One way to look at it is to make sure you aren’t overlooking those moments where your customers truly connect with your brand. Make everything you do meaningful and intentional.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We’re in the midst of moving our studio from Northcote to Brunswick East, which is equal parts terrifying and exciting. It’s going to be a beautiful space when it is all finished and we’re excited to have our clients and collaborators there soon.
We’re also in the process of launching a new brand of notebooks called ‘Off–Line’ which embody everything we believe in. It’s not only going to be a product with incredible utility, it also aims to give back to the community. The products will be made more than sustainable, by us, right here in Melbourne. We’re really excited to share with the world very soon!
Follow us on instagram @hungryworkshop & @offlinesupplyco and check out our websites hungryworkshop.com.au and offlinesupply.co. If you would like some letterpress samples, you can sign up to our newsletter here and we’ll get some in the post for you.
Creating better working relationships —
Something we take very seriously at JAC& is fit. We only take on projects when it’s right for both parties. Anything less leads to stress and disappointment, two things we don’t need in the studio and definitely don’t want for our clients.
Recently we had a client relationship take a bad turn. We didn’t manage expectations as well as we could have, bringing undue stress into the studio and resulting in an unhappy client. As upsetting as an experience like this can be, it’s also an opportunity to reflect, review and refine. Here’s what we learnt:
Ask simple questions
New processes can be confusing. Questions like ‘what are you expecting of X?’ or ‘are you clear on the next step?’ can save a lot of tension.
When you get the feeling a client is unhappy, they probably are. As soon as that feeling arises, ask the question. Vice versa for clients too. Professional relationships require transparent and open communication to work.
If a project has lost track – maybe the schedule has gone out the window, or communication is proving difficult – it’s okay to speak up. This doesn’t mean getting personal, it means being clear on what you need and why.
Our favourite newsletter (Smarter Living) sums it up really nicely in their article You’ve Made a Huge Mistake. What Now? when they say “the first step to correcting a monumental blunder is to be honest and critical with yourself”. Everybody makes mistakes, it’s what you do next that matters.
Be less busy —
Something we work hard to avoid at JAC& is stress. It’s unfortunately common in our industry to consider being busy and stressed as a sign of success. Regular overtime is a given in a lot of studios and agencies, as unrealistic client demands are often met in what should be someone’s time with their family or loved ones. It’s disheartening to see creative businesses championing this tone when the work we do is, for the most part, incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.
Admittedly, very occasionally, it’s unavoidable to become stressed. With small business in particular, there are a lot of hats to balance and from time to time they can topple. The past financial year was one of our busiest at JAC&, we grew the business and settled into a new pace after launching 43 Derby Street. In an effort to retain a sense of calm, we recently reviewed our time-management approach and thought it might be helpful to share with others.
Think big picture
And write it down! To understand our current workload we regularly update and print a list of all client work, internal work and potential or upcoming projects. When things become busy (or quiet) this is a useful piece of paper to have around.
No project (external or internal) should be left floating around without a schedule attached to it. At the beginning of each project, we create a schedule for everyone involved to keep on hand. Having agreed dates in place ensures people are on the same page and accountable.
The studio diary looks fairly scary with its rainbow of colours and jumble of tasks, there is order in the chaos though! When a project schedule is set, every task associated goes into the diary ahead of time. This ensures there is always adequate time set aside, deadlines are met and conflicts can be avoided.
Things happen and life can sometimes get in the way of a perfectly organised diary. When things don’t go to plan, communicate early with clarity. When there is an open and honest dialogue, people are generally understanding and accommodating to change.
This isn’t a groundbreaking approach (and there are plenty of project management apps that could likely automate the process) but it does help us stay calm and productive. Staying organised, in whatever way works for you, allows you to be ‘less busy’, do better work and ultimately enjoy your life without unnecessary stress.
One of the benefits of being a small business is the ability to adapt quickly.
At JAC&, we start our branding process with a thorough pre-design phase which entails a workshop that – amongst other things – explores purpose, defines audience and clarifies offering. We think this is a hugely valuable process for a business of any size to go through, at least once. For a small business, revisiting the process regularly can help considerably with improvement and growth. We find brainstorming the following regularly can be very helpful:
- Revisit your purpose. Why are you doing this? Why did you start?
- Understand your audience. Are your audience who you thought they’d be?
- Clarify your offering. Does your offering appeal to your actual audience?
Recently we went through this process ourselves and thought it would be valuable to share the journey. After announcing our new offering, JAC& Brand Workshops, we took some time to reflect and adapt.
We started with purpose, brainstorming why we created the offering and uncovered the following:
- To help small business owners understand what a brand is and how valuable it can be to business.
- To help new business owners build the invisible parts of their brand and gain clarity around who they are.
- To help existing business owners revisit and strengthen their brand.
- To help people with lower budgets build a brand with depth and substance.
To better understand our audience, we:
- Reviewed all data and insights available to us.
- Assessed all enquiries received for underlying concerns/hesitation.
- Asked questions of as many people as we could.
After going through the above steps, we realised we knew who our audience were but not what they needed. We spent considerable time assessing how we could achieve our purpose while balancing the business’ needs at the same time and landed on a compromise. Increasing participants slightly and reducing ticket cost invites our intended audience back in and allows us to help the people we want to.
Going through the above process can lead to so many different outcomes – financial or otherwise – if your business or offering isn’t doing what you thought it would, ask questions of yourself and others then, adapt.