When meetings hit the spin cycle it's a waste of time and energy. Directionless conversations where the scope of feedback isn't doing anything to improve the quality of the output only lead to more meetings and unclear next steps. Whether you’re a product manager or a product marketing manager, you’ve often got your name wrapped around tasks that, by nature, are highly subjective. It's easy to get stuck or lose control to the complex committees that review these items.
When I wasn't trying to fit into small spaces, like the dryers at school, I was a worker bee at "The Columbia Missourian." Once a week, newspaper design folks would have a critique meeting. My fellow colleagues and I would descend into the bowels of the building, tacking up our finished products for all to see. There was no going back. The paper was already published. We would hear raves or disgust based off the decisions we had made for visually carrying the stories we were assigned to.
Ready, Aim, Fire
One by one, we’d get our shot on the potential hot seat. Design is extremely subjective: “…why did you go with blue over purple? Why this font styling? Why did you focus on this over this?” It could spin out of control pretty quickly. The conversation could turn from helpful feedback into people sputtering off how they would do it based on personal preferences and singular opinions. Luckily, that never happened in these reviews and here’s why:
My professor, Joy, whether she knew this would be the gem that has carried me through my professional career, always had us begin any review by stating what we were trying to achieve, why we were trying to achieve that and how we felt we did.
Thank you, Joy!
The conversation didn’t stray or split hairs. It just lingers on why you did or did not meet your objective from the views of the collective. I always felt that I received razor-sharp, helpful feedback that I’d take into account for the next time. Honestly, when something is subjective people will always love and hate the output. You will never have a 100 percent clean experience. By showing you thought out your actions and that you stick by them with sound logic, you can retarget the way people view your deliverable and what they chose to focus on. You can do a lot with subjective things — be bold, take risks or play it safe. It's important for your team members to know why you're picking the avenues when they aren't as close to a deliverable, as well as all the work that got you to that end point.
I use this method when I’m presenting positioning messaging, marketing content, design materials and requirements documentation. I think it’s great because it gives the team context into how you perceived the task and gives you the opportunity to show, either through market research or some other objective means, that you can back up what you are proposing with your intended audience at the forefront. Because, with a lot of cooks in the kitchen and a lot of opinions to sift through, the focus can quickly break down and move away from the deliverable's true intent or purpose. Meetings can turn into never-ending conversations that aren't going anywhere with clear action items, because everyone is talking about all the ways it could be done. Don't let that happen. Keep it focused.
Since I'm going retro today, I'll give an example from my design days. This was a hated and loved design.
What I was trying to do: This is an art story with amazing art. I wanted to get out of the way and let the art do the talking. This story was literally about touching art, which you normally wouldn't think of. People think about that hard line you can't cross in most museums and galleries — so I wrote the headline and a nice secondary line to clarify it. Originally, I had that headline in just as a joke placeholder, but when my peers and professor came around, I found out it worked.
Why the positioning of the photos: In the actual piece, the gallery owner talked about how they liked to hang all art at equal levels, because all had equal focus. I could have run one photo, but I chose all three to highlight as equals (equal placement, size, shape). It's a risk, but I wanted to match the real mentality of the gallery. Consumers of the paper would get to experience the art as they would in the gallery.
How I felt I did: I know I could have run any one of those photos huge, but I wanted to be true to what I read. I'm happy with people getting to see more to help them decide whether they'd want to go. This story is about enticing art, so the playful headline, for me, fits that tone and catches readers off-gaurd — enticing them to read further.