How Do You Approach The Role Of Feedback In Your Work?

How Do You Approach The Role Of Feedback In Your Work?

After the last topic of quality versus quantity, it’s time to move on to this week’s question:

How do you approach the role of feedback in your work? At what point in your process and how often do you seek it out?

I’ve always felt a bit different in my approach to feedback than others. I value it immensely and allow insightful feedback to shape my body of work, but I almost exclusively seek it out after I’ve created something. For personal projects, I almost always wait until the idea is solidified and the work is at least 80% complete before showing it to somebody. I’ll seek feedback from a select few people near this end point in instances where I’m curious for another perspective on one or two small aspects of the piece. I rarely show anybody an early snippet. I might mention the work in a passing comment, but I’m rarely seeking substantial advice at this point. For collaborative works, I have good back and forth conversations and make sure an understanding has been truly reached before hunkering down in my creative cave. This has always been successful for me.

To me, art is about expressing one’s unique view (even collaboration is just a unique combination of unique views) and I think to fully understand my take on a particular piece I need a lot of time for self-reflection and experimentation. To get deep in this self-reflection/experimentation, it can’t be interrupted by outside influences. I need a solid sense of where I stand before having that stance challenged or fortified by other people’s ideas.

That being said, once the piece is complete I’m very eager to share the work, engage in conversations, and receive feedback. I’m receptive to and encourage both positive and negative/constructive feedback and allow my views to be flexible. I also try to cast a wide net to gather opinions from people in my field, other creatives, and non-creatives. These post creation conversations are key in informing my body of work going forward.

It’s like the saying about how you can’t truly be comfortable in a relationship without being comfortable with yourself first.

Matt Hanna
Musician/Composer/Teacher/Ecommerce Strategy Consultant/Personal Coach/Lover of Thinking and Learning
Boston, MA

I’m going to write this through the lens of client work. Getting feedback on client projects and getting feedback on self-initiated projects are two different things, but I’m much more familiar with the former since I work with clients as a web designer every day.

So, let’s start this off with a confession: At the start of my design career, client feedback on my work terrified me. When someone didn’t like work I’d done for them, I took it really personally. This led to me delaying showing clients work as long as I could, and then bracing myself for their feedback. This was a good practice for precisely no one.

Now I realize that feedback is totally helpful and necessary, and I try to get as much of it as I can, as quickly as I can. First, I’ve come to realize that the perception of a job well done sometimes has very little to do with the quality of the work (though of course it plays a big part). Communicating why you’ve made decisions and how it will help the client in their goals is way more important to getting them on board and getting useful, non-“make the logo bigger” feedback. Second, I’ve come to realize that clients don’t like being kept in the dark, which is basically what I was doing in my early days by not asking for feedback often enough.

Seeking feedback and keeping a dialogue open around the work is a good way to include clients in the process and results in fewer weird last minute requests later on. I’ve come around to seeing design as useful and purposeful (as opposed to a purely aesthetic expression – that’s art), so if someone doesn’t like it, I can now question whether what I’ve made is as useful as it can be instead of just feeling sad because they didn’t like my work.

Dara Skolnick
Web Developer + Designer
Toronto, Canada

Feedback is an important part in the creative process. Sometimes I look towards my friends or colleagues for their input to see if I am on the right track, does it make sense, is there a different approach etc….. I usually find myself seeking feedback in the middle of a project. Sometimes I find myself stuck and need help looking at it from a different angle in order to reach the final stage. I look to a friend to see if my message is coming across and all the elements are working well together. I wonder sometimes if too much feedback hinders things. Sometimes I just need to trust myself and just do it. It depends on the situation if I seek feedback or not.

This instance comes to mind when I presented this creation which was in the beginning stages, by no means the end product, to a group of creatives. We were all coming up with ideas for this particular project. The brainstorming was going one way and I kind of went in a different direction but not straying too far from the general idea. What was being formed at the time, the message wasn’t coming across too well with me so I tried seeing if i can come up with a different solution to get the message across. When I presented it, much of it was “constructive” criticism. I won’t turn away from constructive criticism. It is beneficial to use it in order to get the project to its best. Probably reading all the comments all at once got me defensive I have to admit and I didn’t see anything really positive from it. I am continually learning that when it comes to negative feedback I need to take it, acknowledge it and try not to take it to heart sometimes. I think that is what happened in this instance and since I was in a leadership position for this project I just wanted it to work well. I admit it is still hard for me not to take things to heart sometimes. In the end everything worked out well. I believe feedback needs to be a combination of positive feedback and constructive criticism. I don’t think it can be all negative or all positive. There is always something to improve upon even if it is a small detail. It just seems feedback is a slippery slope that needs a mindful approach.

Desiree Zielinski
Graphic Designer
Scranton, Pennsylvania

Steven King said, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” I think most of us leave the door wide open the entire time. Often feedback is either distracting us from making the thing we should make, or distracting us from finishing at all. Sometimes we need to know when to close the door and work hard.

Drew Gneiser
Social Media Specialist at Feed My Starving Children
Social Media Strategist at CreativeMornings/Minneapolis

I approach the role of feedback in my work with mixed feelings that change depending on factors like origin and mood. I’ve found this question confronting in that without self examination I like to think that feedback means much less than it actually does.

When I add a final to Flickr, for instance, I find myself looking for how many likes and comments there are. In fact, upon reflection, I think I use Flickr, Facebook…etc…for this purpose only. This sort of feedback is basically for my ego and it bothers me to admit that.

With that said, there are a few people that I seek out real feedback from because I know I will get honest and constructive criticism. When someone offers their unsolicited opinion it usually just annoys me.

No one, except my wife in a few cases, sees unfinished work…and she knows better than to give feedback without it being asked for and I don’t give feedback for her paintings unless asked for. Her opinion has the greatest impact on me.

The exception to all of what I’ve just said are final pieces that go into the realm of very personal work, something that is above and beyond any feedback or opinions of others having any influence on me about it.

Chuck Baker

I think that feedback, and being open to it in general, is important to the creative process. However, it honestly depends on the type of project I am working on that determines when I seek it and when I apply it. For client work, it’s built into every phase from beginning to end. It’s important to me as someone who believes in the power of making things that come from a real place to always be real in my conversations and as I’m building things. I tell my clients it’s all in when we work together and that we toe the line between personal and professional. If they are uncomfortable with that stance, then we probably aren’t the right fit for each other. I accept feedback openly and honestly and return the favor when it comes to client work. It’s always about how does this feel and if it’s not hitting home, what are concrete things we can do to change that?

In terms of my own projects, because I work across different mediums, I tend to apply filters to feedback depending on the medium. For example- if I am working on a skateboard, I usually leave the feedback for the very end, the hand off, if you will, when it is given to the person I made it for or goes onto the wall of where it will live and leave it to the observer to say what they will. My choice of painting on skateboards is deliberate. Because it’s an object that is meant to be used and the feedback comes when the viewer chooses to do that or not, do they destroy the art I’ve created on it or do they leave it untouched. That is a very specific type of feedback for me.

When I work in video and film, feedback is more limited to the middle and end stages of the creative process. There are a few trusted people who I turn to because I value their opinion but also know they will give it to me straight to help push my work to the best possible place. If there is something I am feeling stuck on or perhaps want to test, I will share it with a completely removed group and invite their impressions into my process. I listen and respect it no matter where it comes from but use my judgement when it comes time to make decisions about whether or not I am going to incorporate it. I also share my work when it’s completed with the same group of people and take what they have to say, catalog it, literally write it all down and reference it for all future work when necessary.

Mykim Dang
Skateboard Designer and Video Storyteller

I love hate mail. Most of my feedback from articles I’ve written is in the form of emails, tweets and online comments. My writing focuses on science, the environment, and our human connection to nature. These topics often lead to controversy which spark hate mail. An editor once told me if I wasn’t getting hate mail I wasn’t making people question their own actions. Over time, this comment has encouraged me to be bold and honest in my writing, greatly improving the reach of each article. My hope is for people to be inspired or at least question how their everyday activities are connected to the world around us. Through feedback from readers, I can see what words really resonated with them and how they perceived the article’s message.

It’s unbelievable how a particular word, graphic, or video can be perceived in a different way than the meaning you had behind it. You can read your own article 100 times but never catch what will reach the reader. The feedback received is important to learn from your work and adjust your messaging in the future.

I also get feedback during the editing process from editors and VIP readers. After editing myself, I often send articles out to people I trust and value their opinions. Their feedback is important to question areas that may not have had much of my attention. Feedback from your colleagues and peers not only propels your work forward but also grows your own knowledge and experience.

I strongly believe your work is higher quality and achieves greater impact through collaboration. Without utilizing feedback from a variety of sources, you’re stifling your work. Feedback isn’t always pretty either. It can hurt. It’s important to remember to not take it personally and keep your goal of a successful end product in mind. Improving your work can be painful, but in the end you and your work are better for it.

Naima Montacer
Environmental Adventurer
Dallas, TX

I’m a graphic designer, and I’m an entrepreneur. My work is creating things, but my work is also running a business. In both areas I look for feedback early and often. Partly, I can do this because I have a network of people I trust, who have similar backgrounds and industries, and are generally interested in my success (and I am interested in theirs). Partly, frequently soliciting feedback is just part of doing my work well.

Graphic design is almost always in service of a client, so frequently checking my ideas and my work with other people allows me to ensure that what I’m making is accessible to the client and their audience. I find that a quick “does this make sense?” check-in with someone I trust can save me hours and/or tears, and ensures that my client is getting a good product.

Similarly, as a designer of retail products (I design and sell three-dimensional paper items at, I frequently look for feedback on product design, merchandising, marketing efforts, and – let’s be honest – I often have my husband read emails before I send them to clients, just so I have a sanity check.

I know myself well enough to know I’ll get lost in my own thoughts, stuck in my own head, and paralyzed, unless I reach out for a second opinion or a different angle.

Abigail McMurray
Chief Paper Folder, yeiou {paper objects}
Somerville, MA

Feedback is sometimes good and bad. If you take it too seriously you can lose yourself and your dream, if you take it too lightly you can miss the whole entire goal of what you are trying to do, and look like a fool.

Feedback has to be taken into account on a person-to-person basis. How much does this person actually know me, what is their message, and what is their actual motive. I usually watch for reactions, once in a while I will ask someone who has the feeling they can give something good (truthful).

When I met David Grohl, he gave me such feedback, that I knew right then it was powerful, positive, genuine, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. To this day I remind myself of what he told me, and apply it every chance I get. On the other hand I knew someone that would always want to give feedback to everything I did. They would tell me, how I should stick to traditional art, that art shows were useless, and I wouldn’t fare well using an iPad because art and technology would not mix, and that nobody would take digital art seriously. I took the feedback and did the opposite of what they said, I still do traditional art, but I push myself more with my iPad art, and from that I found myself teaching others, and even the girl scouts about how to embrace technology and art with the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) movement. Every time I do an art show I have such a positive experience, and gain so many leads. I find myself saying to others when it comes to feedback basically everybody has an opinion; you just have to filter when it comes.

Paula B.

Feedback plays a huge role with what I do. Nothing here at Proletariat is designed outside of a group. Whether it’s a meaty, contentious feature, a hand-wavey little one, or a sky’s-the-limit idea for the future, at some point the feature is discussed out loud at a prenatal stage before design is assigned and begun in earnest. Once the group has more-or-less aligned on a direction, the group dissolves and the person(s) responsible go(es) to work, producing a spec. At some point in the near future following, there’s a spec review where the same group, plus one or two others go over what’s been put on paper. By the end of that meeting there is typically a solid design that engineers and artists can work off of, but even directly before that meeting, and after, feedback is actively sought out and received from interested parties. So, to put it in a few words, feedback permeates the entire process!

Josh Hufton
Senior Game Designer
Cambridge, MA

Feedback is very important. After all, we are creating for other people not for ourselves only. Seeking for others’ opinion can help yourself to look at your work at a different perspective. However, we need to be careful of what kind of feedback we are seeking. Not all feedback are necessarily relevant to your work. Most of the time, I will seek feedback after I created several options of the layout. Because at the beginning of the creative stage my mind is still processing all of the information and not sure what my goal is going to be, seeking feedback at that point would be too early or even lead to confusion.

Kitty Huang
Graphic Designer
Toronto, Canada

What do you think?


Photo by Matt Hanna