Design Essentials 3: Accepting Criticism

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In the previous two chapters of Design Essentials, we covered topics that dealt with the quality of your design: Originality, and Attention to Detail. While today’s essential design tip will help your designs look better in the long-run, this chapter deals primarily with the design process and how to openly accept criticism of your designs.

Good criticism vs. Bad criticism

First, it’s important to understand that there is good criticism and bad criticism. Accepting criticism does not mean you have to happily endure personal insults, rudeness, or pointless pin-pricking from anyone. This is bad criticism. A good critic–or one who offers constructive criticism–will build you up as a person, make meaningful suggestions, and
help you reach your full potential. This is why we use the word constructive: it reinforces the importance of building a person up and making them better. When you seek out criticism from others, ensure you are receiving high-quality, edifying, constructive criticism–good criticism.

Seeking out criticism

I know what you’re thinking: “You means I should actively seek out people who can tell me everything I’ve done wrong with my design and how to change it?” Frankly, yes. One of the biggest mistakes a designer can make is to believe that he or she is becoming so talented that they need no help from other people to create a good design.

But be careful. When you seek out criticism, make sure you go to the right sources. Be sure to ask for feedback from clients, other (preferably more skilled) designers, professionals in your field of work, your creative director if you have one, etc.

Offering good criticism

One day, other designers might ask you your opinion or thoughts on their design. It’s important to understand the basics of a good critique. First, focus on the design not on the designer. Do not attack their abilities, their skills, their style, etc. Use design principles and sound judgment to explain to them what they could do better.

Also, focus on both the aesthetics of the piece and the overall purpose. Help them make it the most beautiful and most effective design piece.

When giving a critique, first try to understand the purpose, motivation, and ultimate goal of the design. Likewise, never make a suggestion without backing it with a reasonable purpose.

Tips on accepting criticism

Accepting criticism isn’t always an easy thing to do–especially for new designers. To finish up, here are a few suggestions on how to accept criticism gracefully.

  • Remember, they are not criticizing you as a person, they are analyzing the success of the piece.
  • A true friend will want to help your design be better. Remember that those who offer criticism only want to help.
  • Just because someone suggests you change something, doesn’t mean you have to.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for your design, but be humble enough to admit when you’re wrong.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add?

These are a few scenarios and suggestions I have seen as I have worked as an in-house and freelance designer. Criticism always comes up, and it’s a good thing. What other suggestions would you add to help other designers learn to accept criticism?

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Good tips Preston, thanks for sharing! I would add: ask for details. It happened to me to receive critics like “I don’t think this will work”, asking for a more detailed explanation will lead to a good and constructive discussion about what works and what doesn’t (and nobody will get hurt!)

    • @Federica Sibella,
      That’s a great addition to the suggestions above. I had a creative director that would say things like “It needs to pop” or “Add some artsy stuff”. What he really meant to say was “It needs a stronger focal point” or “Some nice subtle texture would be nice”. It’s all about the details (as mentioned in chapter one of Design Essentials.)

      Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for this helpful post Preston. A network of designer friends can be awesome for this type of feedback. Another angle I’ve been musing lately, and will write on soon, is the skill of self-critique: how to be your own critic. I’d say it’s best to have others’ critiques as well as learn how to be critical of your own work.

  3. This is one of the toughest parts about being in the creative industry. Learning to take criticism, be professionally modest and learn from feedback are keys to success! I agree with Fredrica – asking for details shows keen interest in constantly improving. Good post Preston.

  4. A very sensible article Preston. From my own experience I can say that if we brainstorm the projects before we start it there will be very less criticism and revisions. Whenever I have said to the client “To leave it to me” I have to go back and forth with revisions. It may be their expectation become high but where I had a chat with my client before I started and had his views and inputs clearly in my mind the project was closed in no time :)

    So for me my best critic is my client after all he is paying me. Sometime I tell them they are wrong technically and sometime they show me the way by their intelligent inputs which I accept gracefully becuase there is always room for improvement no matter how much good we are in our skills.

  5. As hard as it is to take sometimes, my brain can not rest without knowing what others may think of a piece I’m not so sure of. All together however, there have been lots of times my projects get better because of that criticism. As Designers we stare at something for way too long and it’s always good to get some fresh eyes in there. I also like to seek none Designers to see get their thoughts.

  6. Consider criticism in a different context – customer service. Upset customers are often, personally insulting and they can definitely get under the skin of the customer service agent.

    Defusing a really unhappy customer and turning his experience into something positive takes real skill. It’s where great customer service can really get defined.

    Likewise, learning how to put aside personal attacks and rudeness and find the value in bad criticism takes a lot as a designer. But it can be thoroughly worth it. It takes a considerable amount of passion (and interest) to level really harsh criticism at someone.

    Still, like the errant blog comment you received the other day, some bad criticism is just that – bad.

  7. This is a really helpful post. Especially for people in the design industry. I know that I definitely could use more help in taking criticism in a constructive way. No one likes to hear bad things about their work, but it might be helpful in the long run.

  8. Very good topic!

  9. Thank you for posting. It is refreshing to read a blog that is easy to read and understand.

    -Jody

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