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.
Our word for 2021 —
For the past few years, we’ve chosen a word to keep us focused in the year ahead. Without knowing what 2020 had in store for us, we chose depth for our word last year. We wanted to look inwards, and boy did we have plenty of time to do that!
2020 was a challenge, but we learnt so much. We formed new habits and ways of thinking that we don’t want to forget.
Our word for 2021 is… not happening.
If last year taught us anything it’s that you can’t plan for everything. It also gave us the confidence and trust in ourselves to know that we can handle it.
So here’s to not knowing, and being okay with that.
When is DIY design appropriate for a brand?
Recently we’ve seen an increase in DIY design – from social media posts created on Canva to websites on WIX or Squarespace – small businesses globally are taking their brands into their own hands. It’s an easy way to get things out into the world with fewer obstacles. It’s cheaper, can be done on the fly and you don’t have to deal with us annoying designers. We get the appeal.
As designers, we obviously hold some “opinions” on this kind of thing, but as small business owners we have empathy for it too. We thought it might be helpful to explore some of those opinions here to help other business owners make informed decisions around how to manage their brand.
When deciding whether or not to DIY, you should consider:
Business vision and goals
Is this business something you’re testing out? Maybe something you’re doing on the side of a permanent job? Or do you have longterm goals and expectations of the business?
If it’s the former, then rolling out your brand in a DIY manner could work really well for you. The agile nature will mean you can test out ideas on-the-fly and your audience may just respond positively to the human feel of your brand.
If the latter, it’s worth thinking of your brand (and relationships connected to it) as an investment. You also need to be wary of the other costs (like reputation and your own time) associated with cutting corners, which brings us to our next point.
Your brand position
Where do you want your brand to sit in the market? Who are your peers and competitors? Get to know them and familiarise yourself with the quality of their design and marketing material. You need to meet them we’re they’re at as a minimum, but preferably do better.
Carving out a place for yourself in the market doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly, but it does mean playing the game seriously. Because….
Your audience has expectations that you should understand
Who are you talking to? This is a really important question many small business owners can’t answer confidently.
Big brands invest massively in understanding their target market, and while not many small businesses can afford to match their efforts, it’s something you need to at least explore intermittently. You can do this with a professional, or you can run yourself through activities at home too. Whatever your choice, our advice is… don’t ignore it!
Lastly, be honest with yourself about your (or your team’s) skillset/ability
We see plenty of DIY design examples that fit the saying ‘close but no cigar’ pretty well. While you might have an idea of what you think looks good, you may just not have the skills to execute it well. If you don’t, partner with a professional you trust. It’s not worth damaging your brand reputation to save a few dollars.
You could save yourself a lot of heartache, wasted time and reputational damage by working with a designer. In small business, longterm partnerships with external suppliers you trust are worth their weight in gold. People grasp this concept easily when it comes to accountants and lawyers, but often overlook the value when it comes to design.
Summing up, we think DIY design has a place in the world. Not everyone can (or should) dive into a thorough branding process. It can be a big undertaking. If your business just isn’t there, your audience doesn’t require it and you have the skills to DIY, go for it. Like any decision in business though, consider the pros and cons to know what you’re getting yourself into. Today’s decision is tomorrow’s opportunity (or problem).
Our Home School workbook contains activities to help you explore your brand positioning and audience. Or, if you’re wanting a more ad-hoc approach try googling some of these terms to find articles and step-by-steps aplenty:
- Brand position
- Brand positioning map
- Audience profiling
- Define your target audience
And of course, we’re here for you too. Book a 10 minute discovery call to chat about your goals and see how we can help.
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.
JAC& CHATS — Brand naming with Eli Altman
It takes a village to create and grow great brands. In this series of interviews, we’re talking to the people who help do just that. These are people that we admire for the work they put out into the world, and their approach and ethos too. Without further ado, meet our first JAC& CHAT participant, Eli Altman!
Eli grew up drawing and writing in Northern California. He led his first naming project at 16 years old and has been naming ever since. Eli is the author of Don’t Call It That, a naming workbook, Run Studio Run, a guide to managing and growing a small creative studio, and is the co-creator of Go Name Yourself. He has talked naming and branding with The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and the Guardian. Before joining A Hundred Monkeys, Eli was a brand strategist leading the naming practice at MetaDesign, San Francisco.
Tell us a bit about how you work with brands at A Hundred Monkeys?
All good relationships are two way streets. We want to work with people who are excited to work with us and vice versa. We like to work with brands doing work that benefits plants and animals, including humans. At the very least we want to make sure they aren’t hurting anyone. We look to avoid relationships where we would be classified as a “vendor.”
Our client relationships tend to start with naming. Many of them expand into brand messaging and other forms of writing that hopefully are never called “content.” We’re not big believers in brand archetypes or personas or anything like that. The most important thing to us is doing work that’s useful for our clients.
How does a positive naming experience add value to a brand? Alternatively, if someone doesn’t take it seriously, what evils await them?
Brands only exist in context. A name is never just a name and a logo is never just a logo. The context, environment, and experience always work together to shape perception of a brand. Naming, considering it usually happens so early in the creative process is often hard for people to see in context because the context hasn’t been created yet. For many companies and products the name is the first real concrete statement the brand is making. Your name also happens to be the only element of your brand that can go absolutely everywhere, including conversations. Good names get reactions—smiles, questions, inquisitive glances. Bad names go in one ear and out the other.
Considering a name is such a small element (often a word or two), it can never communicate everything you’re looking to say with your brand. Understanding this, a name is about getting people to come closer and engage with you. It’s an attractor—and if it works, you’re putting people in a position to learn more about you and see if they want to keep you around. The number one misconception people have about brands is that people are going to be as interested in what you’re doing as you are. There’s far too much noise out there for that. You need to give them a reason to stick around. And while you’re at it, try to get them to say something back before you bombard them with newsletters and shit they don’t need. Remember, relationships are two way streets.
Finding the right fit can be hard for clients. Any advice on what they should be looking for when it comes to partnering up with a naming agency?
A lot of our clients are design firms and other creative agencies. In these situations you should just be looking for work you like from people you enjoy talking to. From there you can start to build some trust and an understanding of the best way to work together. For non-creative industry clients it’s really important to have an understanding of, and belief in, the creative process. Yes, you should like the creative output, but every name selected by a client is about their specific needs and situation. Believing in the process gives you the confidence to believe you’ll end up with a great name. Almost forgot to mention budget—probably a good idea to get on the same page about that.
Without divulging your deepest secrets, what % of someone’s budget should be dedicated to naming?
Ah, you read my mind. As far as percentage of your budget it really depends on how big the project is. We typically price based on a few factors like timing, trademark clearance, and number of stakeholders. In my experience naming fees are about on par with logo fees. The most important thing for us is working on interesting projects that make a difference. If that’s what you’re working on, we’ll bend over backwards to make the budget work if that’s what it takes.
Any advice or tips for someone starting a new brand, or growing an existing one?
Trying to appeal to everyone is the fastest way to appeal to no one. Being clear on what your brand isn’t is often as useful as understanding what it is.
Be different in a meaningful way. No tricks or buzzwords—make it very easy for your audience to understand what sets you apart.
Don’t pay too much attention to what your competition is doing brand-wise unless you’re using it to go in the opposite direction. If you pay too much attention you’ll end up looking just like them whether you’re trying to or not.