Skip to main content
Commsy creative stuff straight to your inbox


How to Give Feedback to Ugly Babies

< Blog home

How to Give Feedback to Ugly Babies

With 15 Academy Awards and an average worldwide gross of over $600 million per film, Pixar may be the most successful creative enterprise ever.

Despite such public success, in his memoir, Creativity, Inc., Pixar founder Ed Catmull writes, “Early on, all of our movies suck. The trick is to go beyond the initial germ of an idea and undergo the time-consuming and laborious work it takes to get something “from suck to not-suck.”

Catmull calls Pixar’s initial ideas “ugly babies,” because they start out, “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” Not everyone can see what those ugly babies can grow into. It can be tempting to want to kill new ideas in the cradle, but it’s important to protect them.

That’s where a well-considered feedback system can work wonders.


The National Business Research Institute recently surveyed employees and focused on their top 10 most recognised complaints. 8 out of 10 related to feedback from managers.

It’s not surprising that the prospect of feedback can whip us up into nervous wrecks and instill fear and angst into the most confident of us. We make an emotional investment in our work that we want to protect and nurture.

On a personal level, we’ve probably all been on the receiving end of ‘the shit sandwich approach’. Lulled into a false sense of security with a tasty starter before gritting our teeth as we’re hit with the unpleasant main course and the dessert disguised as delicious praise. When we receive feedback it’s natural to feel defensive. We’re taking on someone else’s opinion, often from a superior position, of how we’re performing or the quality of the work we’re producing.

Creative projects and ideas too can suffer the wrath of the critical feedback fiend, often delivered by the wrong person at the wrong time. Whether that’s the concept behind a new campaign, a new idea for the intranet or a piece in the employee magazine, at some point we need to give or receive positive, practical feedback.

With 80% of those employees surveyed by the NBRI feeling dissatisfied with the feedback they’re receiving, it seems there is work to be done!

Sharing feedback should be a positive process for all involved.

It can be productive for organisations that are striving to be innovative. When giving feedback on projects, campaigns or new ideas it’s about recognising the potential in someone or something, refining and supporting progress and improvement together.


It’s often hard to identify a new idea’s potential when in the thick of things you’re faced with its shortcomings and problems. It’s crucial to remember that every great work was an ugly baby at some point and must be developed – effective feedback requires candor, trust and empathy. “Originality is fragile,” Catmull says, and new ideas need friends. The purpose of feedback is to move new projects and ideas forward, as this article by The Creativity Post points out.

The result at Pixar is the “braintrust,” a small group of the company’s top directors and producers charged with giving feedback to films in development. Importantly, everyone on the braintrust is a filmmaker and is capable of putting themselves in a director’s shoes. It’s the opinions of those who understand the project and can offer practical input that are valued and considered.


Just as Pixar has it’s own process for giving feedback, any organisation can follow suit by developing methods and processes. They should focus on positive reinforcement, taking a project from its current state to a better place. If we can all become a little better at delivering and receiving feedback, it’s likely that more ugly babies will turn into beautiful beings!

Here are some of our thoughts about giving feedback on creative projects and ideas:


  • BE POSITIVE. Show respect for the person’s work, find a positive starting point to set the right tone for whatever follows.
  • BE CLEAR. Don’t leave people to figure out which part of the work your comments refer to. It’s not the job of others to read your mind and can make the feedback frustrating before they actually know what’s to come.
  • BE DESCRIPTIVE. Comments like, “I just don’t like it,” aren’t helpful and don’t offer the necessary guidance to make changes. Be specific.
  • BE SUPPORTIVE. Ensure your input makes a difference. Can you help with any of the points you’ve made or recommend resources or others who can help? How can you make it easier for your comments to be well received and actioned?
  • AGREE CRITERIA FOR JUDGMENT. Make sure that all parties are singing from the same hymn sheet. Set some guidelines and agree timescales or review dates to make the most of the process.
  • ASK WHAT THEY NEED FROM YOU. It’s likely that your feedback receiver has a specific agenda or some defined requirements that they need to make progress on. Make sure you address these by asking the question.
  • SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Offer insight and learnings from other experiences wherever possible.
  • BEWARE GIVING FEEDBACK ON EMAIL! (Particularly across languages.) Have you ever misconstrued an email? It’s easily done. If there’s no alternative then be super clear – otherwise, pick up the phone or better still, pay them a visit!


Before asking for feedback think about how you will position the work and what approach you will take to get the best result. Set the parameters around what you want to achieve. Consider getting stakeholders or project sponsors on board too for a broader insight and more support.

  • BE PROACTIVE AND ASK QUESTIONS. Allow yourself to be open to suggestions on how to improve.
  • TRUST THE JUDGMENT OF THOSE WHO KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T. You’re likely to be working with people who have diverse skills and talents.  As a result, you should trust their judgment on some things. If you don’t, you’re not giving your work the attention it deserves. Be open to following “the beat of a different drummer.”
  • KNOW THAT NOT ALL FEEDBACK IS DELIVERED WELL. At some point it’s inevitable that we’ll receive feedback in a ‘less than perfect’ way. When this happens, take it on the chin and try to unpick the meaning behind the comments without taking it too personally. Nobody’s perfect!
  • HAVE PATIENCE. When requesting feedback from someone, it’s important to give them time (if possible) to think and consider. Try not to push for input before they’ve had chance to digest your work and plan their comments.
  • SUMMARISE. Recap all the points made for confirmation. This will help to show that you’ve listened and that the input you’ve received is valued. It will also help clarify things if needed.
  • BEWARE receiving feedback on email! See above, the same applies.


Giving feedback is a tough job, which should never be undervalued. As a creative agency, it’s part of daily life for us, and we need to approach it with the best possible mindset.

Pleasing all the people all the time isn’t an option. You may need to interpret the feedback to work alongside input from other sources and to make it fit with the direction of your project.

Stick with it. Feedback certainly is a gift and we wouldn’t make progress without it. Driving projects forward and nurturing those ‘ugly babies’ (and the pretty ones too) is a truly joint effort.

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
Alive logo