If you’re a creative, there’s no way to avoid the harsh sting of criticism at some point – probably lots of points – during your career. Unlike other tasks we commit as part of our day-to-day routines, the experience of sharing an initial (or even FINAL final) design is a moment of vulnerability that reveals our inner voice. And, like other moments of vulnerability, that opens us up to feeling wounded.
Whether a designer is working independently with their own clients or collaborating with an entire creative team, criticism and feedback are natural forms of communication that reveal a healthy work relationship. So how can a designer handle appraisals gracefully and progress their own abilities?
Below are a few tips to consider in your next session.
The best creative collaboration is born out of an environment that is open and respectful to all involved. Sometimes, even the worst initial idea can become great. With that in mind, if a person doesn’t feel free enough to share a “bad” idea or muddled concept, the creative outcome is already stifled.
Working with creatives can be a fulfilling experience when all are able to consider the possibility of what they may create together, and there’s little room for ego when the goal is to manifest this Creative Thought Space. To know that all members on your team are just as invested and curious as you are helps enforce – consciously or not – that their feedback is coming from a place of respect for the work, and for you.
The Good, The Bad, The Grey
Over time, most designers will learn how to identify good and bad forms of criticism. Objective rhetoric is the “best” kind of feedback, in that it is usually analytical and direct, free from opinion and solely evaluating whether or not your creative has successfully executed the intended goals for the project.
Subjective rhetoric, while enlightening, may not be the most interesting or compelling form of feedback needed to elevate your design, but it does reveal a preference or taste in the individual delivering this feedback that you may not have known before. That’s what earns this type of feedback the “Grey Area” label: understanding that other people have preferences, even though their feedback may not be directly relevant, is liberating once you realize you don’t have to take it personally, and it may help you present your work differently in the future.
In creative spaces, design rhetoric and trolling is often injected into feedback, particularly online. Dig deeper. Have interesting conversations. Get to the root of the creative solution, rather than fuel the echo chambers that exist in today’s creative trends.
Polarizing Work is Sometimes Your Best Work
As creatives, our goal should always be to push ourselves to find and communicate clear solutions. Often, that means solving for design in new ways, through a new interpretation, a new execution, or a new technique. While we may think that we have achieved a personal victory with a boundary-pushing piece, there’s nothing worse than sharing your creative and realizing that not everyone on your team “loves” it. Just remember: that’s the nature of being “unconventional”– it takes time for people to adjust to novel ideas and accept them as norms. It’s not any different when it comes to design.
You’ve had a rough appraisal, and now you’re back at your desk letting it all sink in. It’s easy to begin doubting yourself and your design in these initial stages, and just as easy to let that state of mind affect your project.
This is the point that a creative should step back and consider the facts vs. the interpretation of facts. For example, it is a fact to say that your design lacked balance within its composition. It is an interpretation to say that your design is awful and should immediately be deleted (#movetotrash). In my experience, a useful way to alleviate my own critique after-glow is to share my work with other designers on my team. It gives me a chance to sound out my own thoughts, and gather alternative interpretations from those who may not be as personally attached to the work. There are many ways to interpret feedback, and it’s often the hardest part of the process. Find your best way.
Processing criticism is not only a useful human skill, but an important element of being a creative professional. Creative criticism shouldn’t serve as a personal indictment, but rather a tool to encourage all of us to develop new ideas. The world is richer when there are many opinions and ideas, so get your ideas out there. Get them torn apart. And rebuild them even better than before.