August 15, 2022

How to give and receive useful feedback in a creative project


Creative work is a group effort. Many brains with very different mindsets, motivations and methods. People working in something that wasn’t there before. Creating something from nothing. Remixing, combining, bending, breaking. Hundreds of different operations in very transversal fields. 

Communicating between creators and non creators can be hard for both sides. There’s something called “the curse of knowledge”. When you know something, you tend to feel it is known by everyone. You feel that it’s obvious. So when there’s a knowledge gap between people, it’s easy to take things for granted.

This article is an attempt to be more mindful for both ends of the spectrum. We hope to be useful for both creatives and non creatives.

Advice for beginners: It’s not personal

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Don’t take it personal, it isn’t

When dealing with creativity, it is quite natural to both creators and not creators to feel some grade of frustration. If you never worked with a non-creator, or if you never worked with a creator before, remember this before giving feedback. Always maintain a center, a clean head, and a certain tone. If you’re not a creator o a creative person, remember that creators are very passionate about what they do, and more often than not they put a lot of effort into what they are presenting you. They stay up long nights, over the clock, most of the times with no recognition for their effort. 

If you are a creator, remember than regular people tend to underestimate the effort behind what you do, so it doesn’t seem bad at all to ask for certain things. 

No matter which side of the table you are, always be kind and respectful to the other ones. The idea that tension brings excellence is archaic bullshit. Some conflict might accidentally arise, but don’t feed it. Remember that there’s more important things in life than a deliverable.

Keep feedback it in context.

We talked about this in a previous article, __________.  When you give feedback, and you want to mention something, it is best to do it as close to the thing you are commenting as possible. It is a waste of time to have comments in an email and the thing commented in a document you shared a week before. You’re making it slightly difficult for the person who needs to review the asset, that now has to look for the document, and on a separate window open the comments, and then start matching one with the other. If both the comment and the commented element live in the same document, everyone will be happier.

Giving feedback on images

The best way to comment on an image is to make annotations on top of it. You could use number coding, writing numbers and arrows, or taking arrows outside the image and placing the comments next to the arrows. Both windows and mac have image annotation tools that can be useful for giving your feedback. Try to point or highlight areas. Do not clutter the image too much. If you need to give lots of feedback on an image and it becomes too messy, just make duplicate images and spread your annotations among them. 

There are lots of new instruments, like Google Jamboards, that allow you to collaborate in a sort of whiteboard where you can add the images, text, drawings, etc.

Giving feedback on documents

Despite what you might think, not everyone has Microsoft office. Especially in the creative sector, the Office suite is something you have because your client or stakeholder uses it. If we could, we would leave it for something better. A format that works more universally is PDF files. 

PDF files or Portable Document Format files, is a format created originally by Adobe that has become a standard because it is now an open format (remember agnostic software?). That means that there are hundreds of tools (starting from any browser) that can open a PDF document. 

Even if PDF files can be edited, they are mostly a read only format.

Spreadsheets can be also shared as PDF files, but in this case is better to give an Excel, because even if it’s not an open format, it is readable (and editable) by many different programs.

Giving feedback on videos/sounds

It is more difficult to give feedback in context while reviewing sounds or videos, for the time factor. The best and most inexpensive way to give useful feedback is to use timestamps for the comments. 

The first thing in your comment should be using minutes and seconds. Video players like VLC player let you see the Hours, minutes and seconds of the current video or sound you’re playing, so try to pause it at the right moment and take note of the time. That’s called a timestamp.

00:00 Change title to “Rocky XXI”.

Once again, using a spreadsheet can become very useful for this, since you can enrich your comments by adding extra columns, and the reviewer can better digest your comments using automations. 

There are different tools that can facilitate this process online. Vimeo Reviews is one of the most popular. The creator can upload to vimeo, create a “review link” and share it with the reviewer. The reviewer can identify and then leave comments by clicking straight on the moment and area of interest. This becomes a list on the side of the screen that is easy to export and check once changes are made.

Reviewer: Always motivate your feedback

It’s not a contest to see who’s right and who’s wrong. What can be wrong for a reason could be right for another reason. Motivating your feedback is important for the creator to understand how to better cater the need that is not being satisfied. Another good reason for motivating feedback is that sometimes things can be wrongly interpreted, and something that you thought meant A, actually meant B. I remember a client who wanted to ditch a shot because he thought that the person in frame was someone that couldn’t appear, when instead it was a completely different person. If we didn’t ask why the shot couldn’t be used, we would’ve never guessed this.


Creator: explain your reasoning

Remember the curse of knowledge? Always keep it in mind. Your reviewer probably doesn’t know or maybe doesn’t understand the reasoning behind your choices and your creative intent. Just remember the times when you were learning. Try to empathize with your reviewer. Explain it before delivering something for review. If you can, always present your work yourself to fill in context that might get lost in the way. 

Use references

Creative assets and deliverables contain forms, shapes, colors, sounds, music, text, performances and many other elements that are very hard to describe or transpose in words. Instead of using words, try to build analogies and show similarities with previous work. If you have something in mind, try to find something that resembles it. If what you have in mind “doesn’t exist” or “was never done before”, keep looking. There must be something similar to a part of it as well. 

Art directors do this all the time. It is the way to share a vision effectively. Can you imagine how many words you can save just by showing things?

I can’t count the amount of times that when I ask for a reference, I get the answer “we don’t look at other people’s work”. For some reason, there are people who think that this is something to be proud of, or perhaps a sign of weakness to look at the work of others.

As if being aware of the work of competitors or other structures similar to ours is a form of staying behind them. This is a rather ridiculous concept to me. One should always watch what is happening out there in the world. Not to copy it, but to get an overview, a big picture of where we are standing.

Immagine Jim Jarmus

There’s a beautiful phrase from Jim Jarmush that says: 

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. 

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 

“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

Again, use references.

Overlapping references and citing them for a single aspect is the fastest way to share an aesthetic idea. References are not meant to be literal. You need to be able to draw analogies with materials. Combine them. Remember the Jackie Chan example? 


You can describe something unique by combining references. It is a common practice in the creative world.

In contrast with Jarmusch, references should not only be on the things we like, but also on the things we don’t like. What we want to avoid. If you are sure of something you don’t like, why hide it? Do not underestimate the usefulness of references by opposition.

Here the organization enters the field. Being able to create a library of references somewhere is very useful, because despite our greed and curiosity, memory betrays.

Giving and receiving feedback is the cornerstone of creative work. Since creative work is a collective effort, being able to exchange ideas and expertise easily is the fuel of creativity. Happy reviewing!

Pablo Apiolazza

Pablo Apiolazza

Creative director / Filmmaker

 I have over 20 years of transversal experience in VFX, production, and postproduction of film and digital, managing remote teams and projects internationally

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