How to Run a More Successful Creative Review

Often, I find it hard to comment on other people’s creative work.

Right away I want to fix it or re-direct it.

(Disastrous) case in point:

My seventh grader proudly showed me a PowerPoint presentation she had been working on with a friend for French Class.

The assignment was to choose from a list of French stories and retell it to the class. My daughter picked Cendrillon (the French version of Cinderella) from a list her teacher provided.

In retrospect, I think what she was looking for in showing me the report was a simple “cool” or “good job”.

Here’s what she got instead:

(oh my)

A questioning of the brief. She was clearly following the teacher’s directions, but I was having trouble understanding why she was allowed to pick this story in the first place.

The French/English versions of the story are identical. Surely there were better stories to put on the list. I was confused by the assignment and went off on a bit of a tangent questioning a “brief” that had already been signed off on by the “client” (her French teacher).

Focusing on details instead of the big picture. In this case, I was nitpicking the fonts which were inconsistent throughout the document.

For my daughter, this was a small detail she was going to fix later on the school’s computer together with her friend, so they could choose a font they both liked.

Input beyond the scope of what she was asking. In this case it was unwanted advice on how she and her friend should present the work.

They really liked their PowerPoint. I thought it would be more fun and creative and related to Cinderella to wear costumes and props. I was convinced we still had some of these in her closet somewhere from her toddler dress up days.

(A mortifying prospect by the way for a 12 year old girl).

Needless to say this “creative review” didn’t go well.

She walked away upset and wishing she’d never shown it to me.

I walked away frustrated muttering to myself, but also kind of out loud, “if you didn’t want my input, why did you show it to me?”

Knowing this scene could potentially play itself out many more times in the course of middle school and high school, I decided to step back in a moment of calm (and with a glass of Merlot) and think about what I could do differently next time for a better outcome.

Whether at home or at work, and with benefit of hindsight, I know there are definitely steps that can put you on the path to more productive discussions.

Here are a few:

Start with the positive. This one is obvious, but I failed to do it. And in my observation in the hundreds if not thousands of creative reviews I’ve participated in it’s often overlooked.

A few encouraging words in the beginning would have put her more at ease and set a better tone for the comments to follow.

Focus on the big picture first. As somewhat of a perfectionist, and struggling to grasp the assignment, I zeroed in on the details of the mutlitple fonts. This frustrated her and really wasn’t my most valuable contributioin.

Ask questions without automatically jumping in with solutions. I think if I had asked my daughter to talk about her goals for the presentation (i.e., how she was going to be graded, whether she wanted it to be fun for people in the audience too, what had other groups done that she admired etc.) she may have come up on her own with more interesting ways to share the content.

But I didn’t. I focused on one solution (the costumes) and dug in on this. When she rejected it, I lost an opportunity to help her along with her own creativity.

Clarify the “ask” upfront.I think it’s important for both the presenter and the reviewer to align upfront on what kind of input is being sought. In this case, overall she was happy with the work, and it turns out, one day away from presenting it. So questions/comments on the fundamentals of the assignment weren’t really what she wanted or needed.

There is an art and a science to the creation of great work. There is also one to reviewing and building upon it.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What are your tips for a successful creative review?

5 thoughts on “How to Run a More Successful Creative Review

  1. Just be honest, if an idea is not compelling and does not have the SFF (sit forward factor) it probably won’t help drive sales or awareness as there are plenty of ideas out there that could..

  2. The question I ask of my clients upfront is: If we are successful on this project, what does success look like? While it catches them off guard at first it forces them to be very specific in the description of success and the ideal outcome. Then I can build a proposal and process around getting there. Try it on your children… it works with them too.

  3. I think it’s helpful to start a creative review by asking the designer to present their design and explain why they made the decisions they did. With internal work-in-progress reviews, I’ve found that they often know what’s working and what’s not. It’s also a good way to make it seem like less of a “critique” and more of a collaborative discussion to make the design better.

  4. Engaging in less formal creative reviews on a daily basis is part of my job and I find it to be a learning experience every time, so this post is extremely helpful! I find with designers, it is mostly about their ego (they created this thing, and so it is a part of them…) so you really need to be careful you don’t offend them accidentally. I find putting the positive part upfront really helpful because it feels like an overall win. Also, I have found recently that when I don’t like something, it doesn’t necessarily mean the designer likes it, so asking someone, “do you like this?” or “what did you think of this project?” will sometimes open them up to tell you, “i found this difficult because”, “i loved working on this because”, etc–which are all things you can usually see in the work!

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