Critique is a must. We cannot label ourselves as designers if we are unable to give or take criticism. Criticism is a very powerful tool for many kinds of problems. It is not just to assess designs; it is for use in creating a better business plan, or even a marketing strategy. Even the greatest designers are subject to criticism.
When we stop evaluating our work, we stop growing. Critics must escape from the glossy silos of the arts and style sections, because design is not a lifestyle commodity. It is fundamental to our everyday life. Design today has become a form of inquiry, power and agency. Knowing that our designs are subject to critical feedback, it will change the way we design. The intent of true constructive criticism is to be helpful, and give guidance or direction that can allow for improvement or a different result.
Critical discussion around design is as important as the design process itself. It should be honest and constructive. Nobody wins if the discussion is simply a warm, fuzzy exchange, as the goal of every critique is to discover how to make a design better, not win a gold star for perfection.
There are subtle occasions where a client or employer will give you criticism that is not for evaluation or advice, but to communicate what they expect. There is not often room to compromise here. If you are unsure of which situation this is, the best thing to do is politely ask.
When giving your own critique as a designer, you should keep the focus on being accurate, actionable and giving good advice. Be sure that before giving any criticism you understand the situation and the intent of the design or brief behind it, rather than just making subjective comments about its aesthetic qualities.
Ensure your criticism is done so that the creator has the opportunity to improve and satisfy the brief, or properly align the design to its intended purpose. Do not offer vague suggestions that lack clear direction and meaning.
When making critiques, try to provide actionable information. Simply saying: "I don't like it" may be truthful, but not very helpful. If you encounter this situation with a client or employer, and they are not giving you the information you need to take action, try asking questions. Help them understand that you cannot make changes if you do not know where to start or what specifically they do no't like.
Be more articulate with observations and recommendations, as it will prevent you from saying: "I really like …" or "I don't like the way you …". That is not real criticism. It is an opinion. However, designers can consider questions such as: "Is it the colour scheme you don't like, or the entire layout?" or "Which parts of the design don't you like?" It will help save time and budget if you show me what you want to keep and what we need to change.
When you are the recipient of a design critique, the main goal is to listen. The true mark of a graphic designer is to not judge or be right. Listen and provide a conscientious response after your client has spoken. It is much harder to defend a design decision if you offer only a biased ear. Your first impulse might be to defend each and every criticism, but that will not give you the opportunity to really consider the suggestions offered.
Help your client understand that you not only want their input, but that it is essential to achieve the best possible result. Sometimes you can unintentionally offend someone by making them feel that if they do not take your advice, somehow they are doing something wrong. Respect the other person's right to reject your advice, while not taking it personally. Give advice with the intention of providing a developmental opportunity and genuinely wanting to help.
The important thing is to be able to differentiate constructive criticism from destructive criticism. Constructive criticism will have good intentions and be actionable. Destructive criticism will be derogatory, belittling and/or vague, with no clear execution plan to be undertaken. Take the former with a grain of salt and look at the situation objectively, ignoring the latter whenever possible.
Try to maintain perspective and think about what it takes to get your best work; whether or not you honestly feel there is room for improvement, and if you could benefit from an outside opinion that ties your critical feedback to the business goals and client's needs.
Overall, understand that the sting you might feel from criticism of your work is just a growing pain. Embrace it and know that critiques do not exist to air unfounded opinions. They exist to offer the best possible outcome for both client and designer. Until we meet again, fill your life with memories rather than regrets. Enjoy life and stay on top of your game.
NB: Columnist welcomes feedback at email@example.com
ABOUT COLUMNIST: Deidre Bastian is a professionally-trained graphic designer/ marketing co-ordinator and certified life coach with qualifications of M.Sc., B.Sc., A.Sc. She has trained at institutions such as: Miami Lakes Technical Centre, Success Training College, College of The Bahamas, Nova Southeastern University, Learning Tree International, Langevine International and Synergy Bahamas.