How to Get Honest Feedback
Why ask for honest feedback
Asking for feedback is essential if you want to improve at your craft.
It may seem like you are on a solo pursuit, but the reality is you can't get where you want to go all on your own. There's only so much you can do without asking for help. Of course, this applies beyond art and design and to most things in life. Let's dive a little deeper into this.
How many times have you been working on a new lettering project, staring at the paper (or the screen) for hours on end?
Your eyes are tired.
You've been looking at it for way too long.
Taking a break will help, but other people will still see things that you just don't see. We are so close to our work all the time while working, it's hard to step back and see it through the viewers' eyes. Others will be able to look at the work more objectively.
Who to ask
My advice would be to find someone you trust — ideally someone whose is close to your skill level. If you don't any close friends who are interested in lettering, I highly suggest investing some time into building those relationships. That could mean just sending an email to a stranger to get a conversation started, or attending a local meetup or conference.
I have a few friends who I share my works in progress with, who consistently provide helpful notes. Having these people at an arms reach has made a drastic effect on my work.
If you're reaching out to someone new, be weary of asking artists who are so far ahead of you that they can barely remember when they were at your level. Odds are they are very busy and don't have time to provide feedback on your work.
To clairfy, there's nothing wrong with reaching out to your lettering heroes. I actually encourage reaching out and asking questions. Just make sure to start off the conversation from a standpoint of helping THEM, not just asking for them to help you. This way they will be more inclined to reply and eventually return the favor.
When to ask
This one is pretty easy, but so many people mess this up. The time to ask for feedback is when you are feeling confident about what you've made, but when you still know it can be better.
Do not ask for feedback on an idea if you don't have very much to show for it. It just comes off as lazy. Although rough sketches are very important, you should first exercise your own decision making ability and get the work to a point that is at least semi-presentable.
If you come to someone with a raw idea, you are basically asking them to do the work for you. Obviously this is disrespectful and a waste of that person's time... This will only work if you're taking a course (or possibly if they love you).
Where to ask
A couple years back, I posted a few works-in-progress on my Facebook profile, asking all my friends for their thoughts. I got back a bunch of comments, but the vast majority of them were not helpful in the least bit. The feedback was either too subjective or not true constructive criticism. The main problem was that the people commenting were not educated in my field and they are not accustomed to giving feedback.
We are also lucky to have designated places for designers to get feedback online, like Dribbble. Dribbble started off as a place to post works-in-progress, asking the question, "What are you working on?". Over the years people have started using it more and more for posting finished work, so they changed their tagline to "Show and tell for designers". Still, Dribbble's invite-only system does a pretty good job of creating a curated pool of people to give feedback. Even if you have a very small audience, asking for feedback when you need it will usually get at least a couple responses if you put the right tags on your image. (If you're looking for a dribbble invite, I heard Mike Jones has one.)
The best place to get feedback is in person, with someone who is experienced. This can be at a work space, a school, or at a cafe – anywhere that is free of distraction.
If I am unable to meet with someone in person, I prefer to use email and text messages to get feedback. This way I can send it out privately to specific people, and we can be as longwinded as we want. From time to time, I will send vector files to my professor and he will go in and mark it up right in illustrator, sending back something that looks like this.
How to ask
It goes without saying that you should always be polite when you ask for feedback, especially if they are not a close friend. Someone is giving you their valuable time and expertise, so you should be appreciative! Ask what they are working on or if you can help them with anything.
The main problem that I see when people ask me for feedback is when they send me an image and say, "What do you think?". This doesn't provide any context to what the design is for and where it will live after this stage. It also would help to know what specific aspects or parts of the piece to give my thoughts on. Are you struggling with anything in particular? Mention that along with the image and you will get better feedback.
How to receive feedback
In this world of likes and follower counts, we've become accustomed (and addicted) to getting positive encouragement. Each notification is a tiny boost of dopamine that leaves us in withdrawal as soon as the buzz has faded away.
There's nothing wrong with a pat on the back every once in a while, but it's not so helpful if we are only getting positive reinforcement all the time. Getting a second opinion is not about validation, it's about improvement. In the end it doesn't really matter if the person you ask actually likes your work. In our craft, a healthy balance of encouragement and constructive criticism is necessary.
Back in design school, I was "that guy" in the room who would speak up during critiques. I'd call out all the little details that didn't look purposeful, while others sat silent or only giving compliments. I did this purposefully because I wanted the same type of feedback on my work. To get good criticism, you have to be critical yourself.
If someone is particularly harsh on your work, don't take it personally. It is not a personal attack on you. It will most likely help you in the long run. If you can separate yourself from your work and look at it objectively, you will be in a much better position to excel.
I hope this article will help you push your work to the next level.
Speaking of feedback, I'd really appreciate it if you would send me a note and let me know how I can improve this blog to better serve you. Really, anything helps!