You don’t know what you’re making

You’ve planned your project meticulously and know everything that needs to happen from the moment you begin working until the moment you dust your hands and step away from your completed creation. Every detail has been accounted for and all that remains is the labor. Guess what. You still don't know what you’re making.

Sometimes the thing you want to make is different than what your thing wants to be. Give yourself room to explore and let your project develop through the process of creation. What is the project is telling you? Collect feedback while you work and let it inform your decisions. Don't be a slave to feedback and observation but don't resist them, either.

People will view, use, read, hear and taste your creation differently than you. Their experience will be different than your own. You can’t control everything and that’s fine, let yourself be surprised.

Tell people what they’re doing well

It’s no surprise that crit sessions, or critiques, are stressful. Everything about them, from the name on down, is designed to expose all of the things the artist/designer is doing wrong or what could be done better. An artist spends a day, a week, a month or longer developing an idea and it culminates in a session devoted to exposing their weaknesses. That sucks. Here are a couple things that will mitigate the stress.

As the artist, collect feedback consistently while you’re working so you aren’t thrown any curveballs on the day of the critique. Do self-critique, use your friends and colleagues for gut-checks while you're working and strive to anticipate feedback.

As a critic, tell the artist what could be made better but also tell them everything they did well. Be very clear about this. The best outcome of a critique is an artist who can identify weaknesses but can also replicate success.

Convert negative feedback into something you can use

We can all improve how we give feedback but the biggest leap forward you can make is how you receive feedback. Especially vague, or unhelpful, feedback. It's a portable skill that'll follow you throughout your career and doesn’t rely on others to be great communicators for you to be effective. Do it well and you can convert poor communicators into clear communicators. At least for that one conversation. It's up to you to make sure feedback is usable.

• Don't accept hyperbole (postitive or negative). Ask for details.
• If you think an opinion was expressed ask for details. Find the source of that opinion.
• Dig deep and apply The Five Why's. If a suggestion is made and you don’t understand it, dig for answers. Ex. Why did you suggest that color specifically? Is it the color you want or the association you have with that color? Do I have room to explore beyond just that color as long as the design captures the quality you’re after?

Know your audience

If you've worked in a bar you know there are different types of drinkers and it pays to read them properly. Do this well and it will result in deeper relationships, greater tips, and fewer lawsuits. I cast a light into the dark recesses of my brain and there, under layers of dust, I found my old classifications of drinkers. 

The Health Drinker - Steady retention, low monetization. 
The Social Drinker - Sporadic retention, good monetization.
The Problem Drinker - Low retention, low monetization. Trouble.
The Under-aged Drinker - Heavy retention, low monetization. 
The Alcoholic - Heavy retention, heavy monetization. Guilt.
The Binge Drinker - Low retention, heavy monetization.

Do these classifications relate to your audience? And does the way you relate to them change positively based on their motivations?


Feedback: Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process

Giving and receiving feedback is one of those things that's easy to recognize when it’s done well but few of us have a structure for it. Crazy since it's something we do every day. Liz Lerman’s is the first of a few feedback models that I’m going to feature. Try it out.

Each participant has a role (the Artist, the Respondees and the Facilitator) and the process has four steps:

1. Statement of meaning by the group. Each Respondee shares what is meaningful, evocative or interesting about the work being critiqued.
2. Questions by the writer for the group. The Artist asks specific questions of the Respondees.
3. Questions by the group for the writer. Respondees ask the Artist neutral questions about the work.
4. Opinions. Respondees offer opinions about the work.

Convert details into goals

Ever been frustrated by feedback that’s too specific? You can’t always rely on others to provide useful critique. It’s up to you to get information that you can use, to shift conversation from details to goals. When feedback isn't helpful dig for more information. Find out what that detail represents to the person. Don’t blame others for not communicating well. Help them be helpful. Become an alchemist, it's a portable skill worth developing. 

Client: Make that button blue.
You: Hmmm...why do you think the button should be blue?
Client: I don’t know. I just like blue.
You: Why? What do you like about blue?
Client: I don’t’s like the sky or water. It’s calming.
You: I see, you’re goal is to make this calming. How much room do I have to explore other ideas that have this same effect?