Our Guide to Dealing with Design Criticism
There is a quote from Aristotle,
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
If you want to do something and be someone, then chances are you’ll face criticism. In the design world this can range from a full on critique of your work, to negative feedback from clients or just a hurtful passing comment. As a designer it is essential to equip yourself with the skills to be able to deal with that criticism. Some ignore the criticism totally, while others get scared and begin to doubt their design skills altogether – neither reaction is good!
In my opinion (and experience), in a bid to gear you for the ‘real world’, design students usually face the toughest criticism from lecturers – and rightly so! During my Masters, I was once told by my professor that he would personally set my work on fire if I repeated my design faux pax again. Ok, that might have been a little more on the tough side than usual, but these types of comments readied me for criticism when it really mattered. It’s here, in this safe environment, that you can grow a tough skin and learn that the worst thing to do is to become paralysed with critique-fear.
When faced with criticism, your first reaction matters a lot. Even though you might start to feel defensive – don’t. It is important to respond calmly, whilst also keeping your attitude positive. If you’re struggling – breathe deeply and count to ten before responding. This technique will give you some time to reflect and allow yourself to think about the criticism objectively. I can confidently say that criticism has to be handled in one way only and that involves learning from the meaning behind what has been said.
Is It Constructive or Destructive?
Of course, criticism depends on the person it comes from. Usually, it is incredibly constructive, but unfortunately, sometimes it can be completely destructive. There’s an art to deciding which form of critique it is. I encourage designers to analyse the criticism and if it is at all constructive, then seek to change. When you decide that it was most likely meant to be destructive, the only play here is to ignore it and move on.
By analysing the criticism you begin to look at the comments objectively. Looking at emotional situations objectively, suddenly gives you the room to breath. The room to reflect. It’s no longer something to be offended or hurt by. This is also a good way to approach an argument – not the content of the argument, but the reason why you are arguing.
Don’t Be A Fool
Some people think that it is a curse to take criticism to heart. It’s much better to be immune and push on through all the suggestions and feedback – you wouldn’t get hurt then. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. There are many times that designers shut their ears to critique and plough on with their own work. But what do they learn? Nothing!
In the same vein, I have a theory about repeat criticism: If you hear the same critique several times, then chances are … it’s right. Don’t be a fool! If you’re told something on several occasions by different people, then listen.
No Criticism? Be Worried.
Where designing is concerned, opinions are considered subjective. Designers design from their point of view and that is what makes each of them unique. I believe that no design is right or wrong. In fact, I believe that designers should have their own signature, which many people might not have seen before or “get”. People inherently don’t like change. Armed with this knowledge, upcoming designers should embrace disagreements and criticism as part of their work – it may be that you’re stumbling into new and exciting territory. If you haven’t received any criticism, then you might not have pushed any boundaries.
Take It Or Leave It
When I was in University, my peers and I all dreaded critique day. It was the day that our cherished designs would be analysed to shreds and all of our love and hard work would be dismissed in a blink. It occurred to me one day, that not one of us left without any form of criticism at all. And it suddenly hit me – “But of course”! It’s the lecturer’s role to inform and suggest and …critique! If they left you with no thoughts to ponder and nothing to reflect on, they wouldn’t be doing their job. So my final piece of advice would be – don’t take it just because it’s there. Really think about the comments and decide for YOURSELF if you agree. Usually, there is some element of the criticism worth taking on board, but if you try and please everyone you will drive yourself mad. Be happy with your work* and proud of what you have created.
* …unless of course your working for a client. In which case, what the client says goes I’m afraid!