Criticize the work of others

Nobody likes to hear that they suck at anything. But no matter how you dress it up, that’s what most of us hear when we receive criticism. Not all of us deal with criticism the same way.

Some people are great at taking criticism and using it to improve their work, while others may feel completely smashed. We should also not forget that no one is good at everything. You’ll always have room to improve, no matter what you’re doing, and the best way to grow is to take constructive criticism from people who have the skills and know-how that you’re lacking. That’s the key!

Me, for example, I am addicted to receive feedback. I really NEED it. Of course I don’t like to hear critique (the bad one of course) and I also have my problems to deal with it — But that’s crucial. My parents taught me to seek to become better and stronger by receiving criticism. That’s the only way it can help me proactively adjust my behavior in the future, leading to better work.

I can say I am a mix of a “Defender” and a “Feedback seeker”. Defenders defends against outside threats, including criticism — clear. A Feedback seeker is actively asking questions about the critique. Simply I want to know why they think what they do, and what I could do to change their mind.

I got my inspiration, to write that article, by people I work with and the person I live with. So probably I will hear an “Amen. Hallelujah.” or something else :-).

“Say it in a nice way”

Criticism is absolutely essential, but it’s awfully hard to endure. Even if it is professionally correct, it can offend. Creative achievements contain a lot of passion, that makes it sensitive. As soon as undesirable inspections stare to one’s own design, we receive more or less pleasing comments. The worst case occurs when someone drops a phrase like “typical, it looks like shit again!” This is hurtful and does not contain any useful hints. Appropriate feedback refer to the knowledge & qualifications of people, who are giving feedback. But objective feedback is usually not the biggest problem, if we overlook the taste. The problem is the tone, the style in which criticism is presented.

Criticism must motivate people to find an even better solution, this must be the main purpose. Everything else is counterproductive.

In order to practice gainful criticism, you should be trained in “savoir faire”. The most inoffensive content can be brought up hurtful — nonverbal level is often enough. Non-verbal level is more difficult to control than the verbal one. In order that criticism can be motivated — both sides, the feedback provider, and the feedback recipient, should respect a few simple rules. Moreover, they shall apply to the criticism among colleagues, but also to superiors, who criticize employees. Anyone who praises or criticizes “subordinates” should not forget, that even the hierarchy gives its words more power.

Anyone who criticizes, have to take enough time for that. A critique on the fly can be easily misunderstood. Ironic comments can also overwhelm a sensitive listener. Criticism is not only important, it’s essential and it requires sensitivity, for which basic conditions need to be created. Introduce critique sessions! In general, it should be started with pleasant critique. Praise and blame will be always shared, but positive feedback at the beginning sets the atmosphere for further discussions.

Secondly, as soon as there exist a pleasant discussion atmosphere, follow with suggestions for improvement. The feedback itself should always refer to a concrete, identifiable and particular detail. Avoid general judgments that do not contain any explicit reference. Generalization is out of place. This is true even for positive feedback: a general blind enthusiasm might be nice, but tells us nothing about our work.

Regarding negative criticism, rules become even more important. A font does not look “just ugly”, it can be at a certain point, “maybe just too small” or contain characteristics, that clash with the communicated content of the message. Overall avoid general feedback: “OMG, Garamond is no longer used anymore!” Such sentences reproduce only clichés.

In a feedback-round, “I messages” are more useful than crude value judgments. (If we exclude User & Client opinion)
“I can hardly read that font, it seems to me too small” — that feedback sounds different and is understood differently less than a general devaluation or an accusations. “Green is a no-go!” Remain as a diffuse hint, but “if I see green, I am thinking about nature” express something concrete. Both sentences formulates objections to the use of a color, with different messages and effects. The second message describes a subjective effect that no one can deny. Critics should formulate “I messages”. This requires open-mindedness and honesty, including a certain amount of self-distance.

If you have a bad day with an unbreakable bad mood, say it in advance — everyone will be grateful for this information, because your harsh criticism put itself in a more positive light. (It is not unusual when we leave-out our bad mood on a design of a colleague) Sometimes behind some unfair criticism is hidden envy of other achievements. Even if you are burning inside, say it in a nice way (at least try). “This wonderful awesome design could be mine”. Separate your current well-being while you are judging others work (of course only the negative).

The designer should give objective and concrete indications, so the other person can improve his work. To achieve this, precise and objective descriptions are essential of the feedback provider.

Objective means that you judge the work and not the person.

Listen!

For those who has to accept criticism need to know some rules. First of all, you should listen attentively — it’s hard to listen if you are especially under pressure and nervous. It’s possible that you only hear what you want to hear. Pay attention to what is actually said. ( Yes I also have to improve this, especially at home).

What you don’t have to accept are insults or reductionist judgments. Constructive criticism, however, is not a declaration of war against you as a person and if you want to fight, then not against the feedback provider, fight for a new design proposal. Some criticism bother us, because we feel that it’s true and we don’t want to admit. If you got criticism, sleep one night over it and take time for self-reflexion. Any suggestions for improvements and details regarding mistakes are at the end a big help. Four, Six or twelve eyes see more than two.

A Product Designer committed to make the world easier to use.