In the Loop
The make-or-break power of feedback
When working hard or to tight deadlines, it’s easy for any of us to fall into the habit of focusing solely on our immediate responsibilities and not communicating enough with our team. In these blinkered periods, we work on an individual task until we’re happy with the results and move on to the next — only to then have a colleague suggest changes to the first, meaning a round of revisions and putting our new task on hold.
Or, say you’re stuck on a task or unsure how to proceed, but have been at it alone for so long that getting someone to help would be as complex as pushing through yourself. All these scenarios interrupt our workflow and can really hold us back. There's no use complaining, stressing, or pulling your hair out about it, however: the solution to all this is to reach out proactively along the way and ask for FEEDBACK! This article will look at the many aspects of feedback and its functions: Why is it important?; When should you ask for it?; Who should you request it from?; Which types of feedback are the most beneficial?; and, perhaps most importantly, How do I process it?
How to Ask — and How it Helps
Asking for feedback is a great habit, whether you're midway through a task or close to finishing. In most cases, you’re bound to have overlooked something — a fresh pair of eyes can help spot areas in need of improvement and give useful pointers. It's also wise to check in periodically with the project owner or anyone else we are working with so we stay in the know should there be any new updates or changes to the brief. As a member of Mighty Bear’s environment art team, the biggest benefit for me is that we’re able to spot mistakes or areas of concern early on and address them before they grow into bigger issues.
This saves us a lot of time during production by cutting down on the amount of iteration we have to do, or at least ensuring our iterations are headed in the right direction. We often also look for different perspectives from other members of the studio, and this helps us address things that people working outside of our specialism might notice sooner.
Getting feedback throughout each project is a game-changer but what’s more important still is that we’re receiving the right kind. We have to know who to reach out to in order to get the best and most relevant feedback possible and make changes that matter. For example, in the environment team we often share our progress with one another and exchange tips or opinions on what can be improved. We also post updates or new iterations in chat channels that make them visible to the wider team. There, we can see at a glance if anyone else has anything to share or ask.
Responding to Feedback
We must also always be prepared for criticism or negative responses. For example, the feedback we receive may require us to have to redo an entire environment from scratch. It's imperative we make sure not to get too precious about our work or take negative responses to heart. No good-faith feedback is never personal: we may momentarily be affected by it but it's best to remember that it's for the benefit of the project. (Of course, if you feel the feedback is needlessly harsh or unconstructively critical, always let the person know!) In art production especially, accepting significant changes is par for the course and we have to be ok with scrapping our work and starting over if we are not producing visuals that hit the mark.
That said, there’s an important nuance to consider here: it’s also crucial to know when to push back on a piece of feedback that isn’t right for the project. If you feel that what’s being asked of you is unreasonable or not the best course of action, it’s your responsibility to speak up and let your colleague know. Feedback shouldn’t just flow one way: at its best, it’s a back-and-forth that drives all parties to discuss and better understand the issues they’re facing and the best ways to resolve them.
Here at Mighty Bear we are all encouraged to speak our minds because it’s understood that we each “own” our work, which comes with being a trusted authority on the challenges we face. It might seem daunting to reject or go against your manager or the project lead, but as long as you’re tactful and open in explaining why these exchanges will be welcomed. Citing specifics, try to break down why you feel your way is the best course of action. Working through these kinks as a team goes a long way toward better understanding one another and promoting honest communication throughout the company. Any competent manager or lead will always hear their reports out and routinely open the floor to discussion.
So what does having proper feedback have to do with workflow? Well, by empowering ourselves and our colleagues to share freely we’re able to push ahead as a unit and help each other focus on making the work our best. I'm usually on day-long call with members of the art team as I work; we find that this access to immediate and unfiltered feedback makes it easy for us to stay aligned on our targets. Some may prefer to work on their own as they can focus better and then reach out when they need help. It’s all about finding what works for you.
By having an open channel for quicker feedback and communication, we are able to work and iterate quickly. This pushes us to achieve top-quality work and improves the overall working environment for everyone. In short, don't be afraid to reach out for feedback — it will make a huge and lasting difference, not only to you but to those you work with!