On Asking for Feedback

Imagine the following: You’re invited over to a friend for dinner. Upon arriving, your dinner is served in a small box. You can’t actually see what the food looks like, and you weren’t around while it was being cooked, so you’re not even sure what it’s supposed to be. You take a bite, and your friend asks “What do you think?”. You can certainly taste it, it’s definitely food, but you’re not sure what to compare it to, so you simply say “It’s good, I guess?”. Your friend is delighted, and immediately responds “Do you think I could become a professional chef?”. It gets awkward.

I wanted to highlight something I consider to be one of the most important soft skills in our field - how to ask for feedback. This is something a lot of people, experienced or no, can work to improve on.

The idea is that vague and general questions will elicit vague and general answers. We want to avoid vague answers, as they are difficult to act on. Another issue is that broad questions, such as whether something is “good”, tend to be subjective, which can put you in a position where you’re receiving contradicting feedback simply based on other’s own personal preferences.

The easiest way to avoid these situations and improve any feedback session is to first: provide context for your work, and secondly: ask pointed questions.

Providing context for your work means explaining what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you explain that a piece was done for a mobile title, people will know not to recommend approaches that increase the performance cost. And by explaining what inspired you and which references you used, others will be able to give you actionable advice on how to lessen the gap between the two! By explaining your goals and limitations, you’ll help others get into the right mindset when providing feedback.

As an aside, I strongly want to emphasize that this is not the same as giving excuses for your work. This is probably the toughest piece of advice to follow, but don’t make excuses! No “I ran out of time” or “The tutorial was really old”! Don’t point the things that you think could be better (unless they’re asking)! It looks the way it looks, so just sweat it out and nod politely until they’ve stopped looking! Aside over.

For the second item, asking pointed questions means being more specific about the information you’re looking for. This is a great place to bring up what you’re unhappy with, or things you haven’t been able to figure out. If the animation of your effect feels off, instead of asking “How can this effect be improved”, try “How can I make it feel more impactful in the beginning?”. Instead of saying “What colors should I use”, try asking “I think red is a better complement to the other colors, but it might make it feel too busy and noisy. What do you think?”. That way it becomes easy for people to chime in, and you’re also inspiring them to examine your work from different angles! It’s totally fine to ask questions about the intangible parts of your effect (the feeling or harmony or appeal), oftentimes it’s those abstract parts that take an effect from being good to being great.

Thinking back to your friends dinner party - if they had provided context for their work and asked pointed questions, you’d been well equipped to immediately have told them not to quit their day job anytime soon.

Knowing how to elicit constructive feedback will rocket boost your skills and make the people you work with eager to provide their feedback and ideas! As an added bonus, thinking this way actually helps you critique your own work better, it’s true! Taking that extra moment to figure out “what am I actually asking” has helped me countless times in figuring out what I’m unhappy with and how my work could have been improved.

Anyway that’s the post, any crit or feedback is welcome :wink: