“More formal critiques take the form of scheduled post-project team reviews, which are helpful for artists and producers to adopt new workflows,” says the agency’s executive creative director Jason White. “If you are on the bad end of a critique, never, at any cost, lose your temper because you can’t take it back. I’m a big fan of honest criticism that includes a balance of suggestions for improvement and praise for what is correct.”
“You need to be honest,” agrees Nigel Hunt, creative director of architectural visualisation and visual effects house Glowfrog. “It’s a business after all, and we need to strike a balance between artistry and commerce. If a shot or image is not working, you need to fix it. Every artist wants to do their best and keep improving their work, so it’s important to be diplomatic and always give constructive feedback.”
Shilo’s Brad Tucker values the participation of artists within the team critiques at the company. “If everyone is invested in the job and thinking about it, then it usually turns out better,” he says. “If people are just pushing buttons and doing what they are told, the job will usually suffer.”
Attik also often engages in informal testing of ideas and visual design to ensure that the work is communicating as intended.
“This allows us to work iteratively based on immediate feedback,” explains Paul. “More in-depth strategic engagements may, at times, call for formalised user testing to review and assess the work-in-progress. This type of ‘resonance’ testing is an invaluable step that gets us into the minds of people who will be engaging with the product or service in the real world.”
Alec East, creative director of agency Thboom!, feels that as the key to a successful project is achieving specific goals, it’s important to know what those are going to be at the start. “If you don’t know exactly what you want to achieve, you will never be able to make it happen,” he says.
“Getting a client to nail down specific objectives for a project can be difficult. In pitches and at other times, you may have to define the goals of a project yourself, but always get them agreed and understood before starting the project. "
Mike Lythgoe, designer at Studio Output, feels it’s important to continually re-evaluate the work in relation to the brief. “It can be easy to get carried away with certain aspects of the design. Working as close as possible with the client at every stage can also have a real bearing on the success of a project; there’s a fine line between keeping your client happy and steering the work in the direction you want it to take.”
One popular way to make the feedback process run more smoothly is to use software and online services to manage the process.
Thboom! uses a number of online systems for managing client feedback including DoneDone and Basecamp. “DoneDone is really for bug fixing, but it’s also very handy for refining designs,” explains Alec.
“When using DoneDone for designs, you can easily view every little amend from the client and switch the status to indicate if it’s waiting for the client to respond or if the ball is in your court.”
Shilo’s Brad Tucker uses two major online viewing tools: Wiredrive and Interdubs. “Mostly these products have been used to give clients a quick web-friendly place to view the [advertising] spots,” he says. “Both have commenting aspects to them but are rarely used. Most comments and creative is discussed via phone/conference calls or email.”
London-based Glowfrog creates work for both the architectural visualisation and visual effects markets. The studio has developed its own project management system to track a project at all stages, though Nigel says it’s easier to manage a CG brief where there is, for example, five images, compared to a six-month television project with 250 shots.
“For the latter, we have developed an online tracking and review process,” he says. “We also hold regular meetings within the studio with artists to ensure the team are up to date on client requests.”
At Thornberg & Forester, the production team builds comprehensive schedules for the client and the internal team. As Scott explains: “Schedules include work in progress posting dates so everyone knows what to expect and when. Furthermore, the degree of polish to be expected – or lack thereof – at each step is something we educate our clients with from day one. Once we pass milestone ‘points of no return’, the process becomes more organic, allowing our artists to really craft and embellish each and every nuance of the piece.”
Beyond production schedules, Thornberg & Forester is in constant communication with its clients. “We believe that constructive collaboration leads to focused partnerships rather than us being a hired gun,” reveals Scott. “We believe in phone calls and in-person meetings. Email can be effective, but there’s something to be said for human connectivity.”