The Art of Giving Feedback When You Don’t Feel Like an Expert

One of the coolest things about Ooligan Press is that we are entirely made up of students who are beginners. As a teaching press, our purpose is to provide learning experiences within the publishing industry, so we do everything in-house, including cover designs, despite the fact that very, very few of our students come into the program with any design experience. The best part is that you don’t need any prior design experience to try your hand at cover design. But that open-door policy doesn’t necessarily make it any less intimidating.

Here’s how the cover design process works at Ooligan: The project team, under the guidance of the design manager, develops the cover design brief, which the design manager sends out to the press in the form of a press-wide call-out for cover design submissions. This submission process involves three rounds of open submissions, which are due on Mondays, and those who submit designs receive feedback from the press by the following Wednesday. Week 4 is the semi-finals—only people who submitted a cover in rounds 1–3 may submit their revised covers in this round. The management team selects the top three cover designs, and the design manager presents these three covers in a press-wide meeting and holds a vote to decide the cover. The chosen designer then works with the design manager to develop a final draft and package it into the jacket.

Ooligan students can get involved with the cover design process in two ways: by submitting designs and/or submitting feedback for the designs in the first three rounds. Submitting feedback is the less intimidating route to contributing to our book covers, but even still, too many students find themselves avoiding this due to a perceived lack of experience. What it really comes down to is imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome, as Healthline explains, “involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.” At Ooligan, we often find ourselves experiencing the symptoms of imposter syndrome as we engage in our professional-level work, and perhaps it is in the design department more than any other department where this rings true.

At face value, there seems to be a lot of technical knowledge involved with design work. That’s definitely true, but it’s a much more accessible body of knowledge than you might think, particularly when it comes to giving feedback during the cover design rounds. Because the important technical issues will be resolved under the guidance of the design manager during the final cover development, these rounds of feedback are more about creative direction than they are about technical rigor. The sort of valuable feedback we love to see in these rounds is feedback on the creative decisions like font choice, color, and use of space—the kinds of things that are either going to attract a reader to a book on the shelf or turn them away from buying it. These are the kinds of things that everyone picks up on, even without having taken a single design course.

That’s why all Oolies are encouraged to participate in these rounds of cover design feedback. Really good feedback is not unattainable, even without technical knowledge or familiarity with the jargon. Bad feedback is “I don’t like it.” Better feedback is “I don’t like the font,” or better yet, “The serif font isn’t working.” It’s being specific about what isn’t working. Great feedback just has to give a little bit more, add a little bit of reflection, a little bit more about why you think it might not be working or how it could be improved. To follow our example, great feedback might look like this: “The serif font isn’t working. Since the market is YA, I think a sans serif font, or maybe even a script font, would work better since serif fonts come off as more serious, and this book has a lighter, more playful tone. Sans serifs and scripts tend to communicate that more.” Great feedback is specific, explanatory, and offers suggestions for revision.

You don’t need to have technical knowledge to supply that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.