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How to deal with getting feedback

Don’t seek feedback to get praise. If you’re looking for praise, show your work to your mum. Feedback is about listening, digesting, and evolving. We should be eager to evolve— it keeps us nimble, fresh, and better than before.

Collaborating with someone can mean intense moments where ideas blip into existence, morph, fuse, and react. Uttering a single word can trigger a chain reaction of ideas, shifting your perspective, and arriving at an end result which you couldn’t possibly have imagined by your lonesome self.

We all sometimes get emotionally attached to our work. We think it’s the best thing ever. We’re human; we can’t help it. But when you show someone else your idea and sincerely ask them what they think, you get to see your idea from someone else’s eyes. It’s like a superpower; a peek into how someone else’s brain works. It’s scary when they get confused or disapprove; but it’s addicting, because now you know how to change for the better.

Feedback is how we grow as designers. It’s a process which allows others to help our idea reach its full potential.

I remember when I received my first feedback on the second week of my design degree— “Katie, your logo is a dog’s breakfast.” I was devastated. Staring at my first logo on a big screen in front of about 35 other students, I was angry and felt like a failure. Then my lecturer said, “it’s too cluttered because you’re using too many different fonts and the imagery you’ve chosen doesn’t evoke any relation with the name of the organisation. What do you want the viewer to think and feel when they see this logo? Focus on that.”

That was years ago, but it highlighted what good feedback can be. It’s an opinion coupled with an explanation. A bonus if it comes with suggestions for improvement. It’s up to us to decide how we can make it productive. Since then, the same pattern of feedback has made countless appearances from various people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’ve collected a few tricks to mentally prepare myself, which you might find useful:

  1. People have said to me “check your ego at the door”, but no one ever said how. Recognise that no one is trying to take credit for your idea or attack you personally; they’re just trying to help. There is no right or wrong, just opinions from people. Repeat these words “I’m a mere dust particle in the universe at this one point in time. I’m just trying something out.
  2. Keep an open mind and pay attention. Don’t be pretentious and pre-judge people as being unworthy of giving you feedback. Anyone can have an idea; anyone can say something at any second that will give your idea a boost.
  3. This isn’t about you personally or professionally. Step back and think of the bigger picture. It’s about your clients, your business, your co-founders, your product team, and ultimately your customers or end user. You are all working together to make the design better. You are an active agent in a bigger whole. That is what this is. That is always what this is. That is always what the goal is.
  4. It’s OK to be angry or jealous but don’t react just yet. (This one gets me every time.)
  5. Breathe.
  6. Before you say “but that’s because…”, take five minutes. Let the person finish what they’re saying and digest their opinion.
  7. A good way to start is to say “I understand where you’re coming from…” Then finish the sentence by trying to empathise with where they’re coming from. The trick is even if you have to make it up, you’ll come out with empathy of their perspective.
  8. Ultimately, you’re in control of the feedback you’ve received. Pick, prioritise and roll with suggestions and keep moving.

It takes guts for people to give you feedback. They’ve taken time out to think and comprehend their thoughts, so don’t be a jerk or a hothead. Jason Fried, founder of 37signals and internationally renown hothead, recently gave some great advice: give it five minutes.

No one is born with the ability to absorb all feedback without feeling like a complete failure. We all start at point zero, just dust particles in the universe making stuff and trying something out.

Next up: part two, how to give feedback


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