"I am an ARTIST, and I am sensitive about my sh*t."
I have particular music playlists when I'm working on projects--certain days call for old blues, others beckon forth garage rock, and some days demand Erykah Badu. I first heard this phrase in her song "Tyrone", inviting an enthusiastic roar of agreement from the audience.
When working with artists of any kind, be mindful that your web designer, your packaging whiz, your sound mixer, your video editor, or your storyboard artist--whatever your project may be--is indeed sensitive about their work. I firmly believe that everyone can grow from critique, but there's definite methodology behind how to speak to an artist.
Having worked a few managerial positions as a liaison between artist and client, I can say that I've experienced the dark side of an artist's feelings of defeat and embarrassment for getting less than positive reviews of their work. Even if an artist reassures you that this is just a "rough draft" that will "demand lots of changes or revisions," they will have a sense of pride in the work they do, even if it just an initial sketch. My usual approach is as follows:
-Before launching at all into negatives, always start by saying some variation of "Nice work!" Because the work, no matter how corporate, involves an artist tapping into an emotional value of some sort, and it feels a lot more vulnerable than perhaps what an accountant feels crunching numbers. So let the artist know that you're happy they came up with something uniquely for you! They'll be excited and work more eloquently and, in my experience, work more truly.
-List off at least 3 things you like about the design (or video edit, etc). 3 is an arbitrary number--it can always be more, but I find that when an artist only gets minimally good feedback (like one comment or none) it feels defeating and I always sense that the project is off to a bad start. I have had to comfort a crying artist or two when they've gotten no good feedback on a legitimately good proof--so be mindful. Your artist is absolutely capable of executing your project, but they need positive feedback. And as a project manager or art director, it's essential that everyone feels comfortable and confident in their roles in order to make a project successful.
-Once a good rapport has been established, critique can be introduced. I find that using positive, passive words and a lack of a you pronoun (when dealing with negatives) work. So two examples:
"Great job on the design! I'm really impressed. I really love your choice of colors; I never would have thought of that, so very cool. We'll definitely stick with those colors. I also am a fan of how you laid out the information, I believe this will be effective with our customers for sure. I also love the direction this is going. Maybe we can change the current font or something--it's great but doesn't seem to fit the vibe as we are looking to be more traditional since our clients are a bit older. Also, we are hoping to see some more icons or something of the sort incorporated in the design to look cohesive with our print materials, so less photos overall. Take a look at our attached print materials, as I think they'll help you knock it out of the park. Thank you so much for your awesome design, and we look forward to seeing those changes!"
The design is okay. The colors work. I'm not a big fan of it, I guess, so can you figure something else out? I really want it to be impressive and you didn't really do that at all. It doesn't feel like you know what our customers are about even though I've told you what we are about. Now that I think about it, it just doesn't seem to work. You need to provide some alternatives, because at this point this doesn't look marketable. Oh well. No one was expecting you to get it the first try but we can't wait around for you to get it."
Does the ineffective critique seem ridiculous? It honestly is but it is a real critique I have seen before, 100%. Notice how it kept putting the designer down without concrete direction about what needs to change--it is all about negatives yet doesn't provide any direction or concrete or conducive critique. Remember: graphic artists are talented creatives, but not mindreaders. They want and are willing to make something impactful for you, but communication and mutual respect is key.
I am in no way insinuating that artists aren't strong; they're the opposite of that. It takes a lot for an individual to share a piece of their soul in their work. But I do find that sometimes clients are oversaturated with a pool of talented artists and are invested in the product result that they will forget to acknowledge the person bringing their project to life. On the flip side, I have worked with incredibly mindful clients who seem to understand the nature of creatives. Be confident in your designer, and I can guarantee you'll have a project to be proud of.