4 tips for evaluating creative work

Jennifer Bost
Oct 6, 2017 · 2 min read

How to stop saying ‘I don’t like/get it’ and start saying things that help.

Do you know how to evaluate creative work? If not, this post is for you. If yes, a quick refresher never hurts. Let me offer up four pieces of advice.

Start with a brief

Born from the land of advertising agencies, creative briefs serve as a “contract” — getting everyone on the same page. It covers the who, what, and why. It’s a creative’s roadmap. And all decisions map back to it.

Why this obsession with a brief? Because if you don’t nail the purpose of the work, then the details don’t matter.

Don’t forget the creative brief is meant to “brief” creatives. It needs to inspire and get their creative juices flowing.

Then, when it’s time to evaluate the work, there’s one main question you need to ask: Does it meet the brief?

Pass the SAUCE

For a message to grab attention and persuade, it should pass the SAUCE test.

Simple
Appealing
Unexpected
Credible
Emotional

If it’s missing any of these ingredients, then you’ve got fuel for real, constructive criticism.

Separate praise from criticism

Giving others constructive criticism can feel icky if you’re not used to it. Most of us like to be liked and don’t want to hurt others’ feelings. That means we couch our feedback in a soft (lethal) pillow.

“I really like what you’ve done, but…”

“The blue is pretty, but…”

Whoop, there it is. The equivalent of your friend asking how they look and you hesitating before you say, “…great.” We all know what you really mean.

All good editors know if you praise people first they’ll be more open to (instructive and kind) criticism later. It starts things off on the right foot. Just don’t deliver the two together. It comes off as passive-aggressive.

Take a moment to narrow in on what’s working, and what’s not. And why. Try and separate your personal tastes and opinions. It makes your feedback too subjective.

Writing down your thoughts — before blurting them out — might help you form what you want to say before you say it. If possible, ask to see the work before it’s presented.

Concepts that push our boundaries often make us uncomfortable and elicit the most ardent, visceral response. If you have time, sleep on it. The work might grow on you. No regrets.

Give directions, not corrections

It’s the writer’s job to write. The designer’s job to design. It’s not your work, it’s theirs. And you shouldn’t take that away from them.

Give them the respect and space they deserve to do their job. Otherwise, do it yourself. Save everyone the heartache and hassle.

Follow these rules of thumb and the world is your oyster.

Now go forth and create — together.

Jennifer Bost

Written by

Writer + Strategist @ Microsoft. Bringing ideas to life. Putting words to work.

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