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Taking it Personally - Feedback as Part of the Collaborative Process


  • By OSNS

    Published on 1 July 2013

What I am about to say might seems obvious? yet so often on a practical level it isn't really that obvious, when we work on creative projects, and our emotions can start to rule, and things become personal. Often when things do become personal, projects can easily reach the point of no return


With this in mind, few designers speak well of their Creative Director's efforts to take a project somewhere, and indeed their relationship is often frustrated by the feedback loop breaking down. But as a designer, it is too easy to blame the leader. The answer lies in having empathy, and remembering what you are trying to achieve as a group, rather than instigating blame. Blame is toxic. 

Most designers know that when you are working in a team, people will alter work that you are proud of and have worked hard at creating. While this is frustrating, because the editor or Art Director is not aware of your choices, its important to try to be open minded and just take on board their suggestions, before jumping to conclusions, and tearing down suggestions. No one is saying you have to agree, or even like it, be open minded, and just try. If you don't, you are on your own. People will stop trying to help you and the dialogue will stop. You need to keep it going. 

We all need feedback and perspective of others to learn, mature and grow, and become better at what we do. We need to remember that if we encourage others to help us, and advise us by being respectful of their efforts they will continue to help us. This doesn't mean that they will walk all over you. The feedback process can get out of hand when we are good at only seeing the negative of someone's ideas, starting a negative spiral of arguments and distrust. 

If you can get feedback and help from a peer or a manager with more experience, you are very lucky, so find ways to cultivate and reward it. No one is saying that you have to agree with the feedback, but be polite. If you always say thankyou, it will encourage further feedback, and you will become a better designer. 

If you are working collaboratively, rather than saying “I don’t like what you have done”, its wiser to ask if a different solution was considered, or why the designer took that particular direction. This gives the designer the chance to respond without feeling as though they are being attacked. 

When we approach any problem, it is important to know how to view it widely. We can become negative and critical of feedback we receive, this is our ego talking, and as well as being immature, it is a sure impediment to the whole creative process. If you only see the negative, without understanding what they are trying to achieve, you are not only demonstrating your ignorance of the creative process, but you are probably killing the project. 

I am sure that you have all worked with clients who are not trained in the creative process, and are too quick to find fault. They will say “I don’t like it”, without being able to say why they don’t like it. They fail to ask questions first, unaware of the whole broader issue. It is surprising though how often students can be the harshest judges of all, especially toward mentors who are just trying to help them. They behave like high school students instead of grown adults, stubbornly holding closely to their work, they get personal, without asking “why”. This is problematic. If you stop asking why, you stop learning. One way of thinking more widely rather than being negative is to employ the Six Thinking Hats which is a very useful tool. At OSNS, students are trained to use these hats and appraise one another's work during their conceptual development module. When I provide written feedback, this is the model that I use. 

Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

If you use ALL of Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to give a wide perspective at of a problem, you will facilitate the process rather than blocking it. It’s also better to do this in person rather than email because the written word can be much harsher than the spoken. 

While it can be more efficient to focus on problems and what’s broken, rather than what’s good and working, if one can’t see both, there’s not much hope of the next design decisions being good ones. Make sure you spend as much energy helping everyone to see and keep the strong parts of what has been done, as helping people to see the weaker and more questionable parts.

The six hats are white hat, red hat, black hat, green hat, yellow hat and blue hat. When you look at a problem, you must make sure that you are wearing all hats, and never make the mistake of wearing just the black hat. While it is important to be critical, if this hat alone is used, it is counterproductive. Using the six hats keeps egos in check, reduces conflict, stimulates innovation, spots opportunities, encourages everyone to participate, and see ALL sides of a situation. 


The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit. You think about what will work, and what is feasible. 

The Black Hat is judgment - the devil's advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.

The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.

The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It's an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.

The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It's the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed.

The White Hat calls for information known or needed. "The facts, just the facts."

Also, if you are frustrated with a lack of feedback from a mentor, ask if you have actually done the work in the first place? You are part of the problem. Often students want feedback or help when they actually just need to make some work themselves first. So many lecturers and Art Directors don't give generously of feedback, keeping words to a minimum so that students and designers need to figure it out for themselves. It is more about what is not said than what is said. They have learned to do this to protect themselves from proud people who don't accept feedback very well. Giving feedback time and time again is tiring and an act of generosity.