Not My Baby

I am all about process. I love process. I feel secure knowing that when I finish one step, there's another step right there waiting for me. Having a solid process is liberating, allowing you to focus more on what you're doing, and less on what you should be doing. All that said, there are parts that can be difficult and frustrating if approached from the wrong angle. Giving and receiving criticism can be one of the hardest and most vital parts of making an effective design.

Let it all out

Giving feedback can be really hard. Sometimes, the design looks good and the only feedback you have is minor. But often this is not the case. Sometimes you have so much criticism that it feels like you're punching the designer repeatedly in the gut. You can almost see the tears well up in their eyes. Negative criticism is not bad, it's part of the process. How you give criticism can be the difference between a constructive meeting that benefits the design and an all-out battle where the designer goes on defense and nothing is gained. Here are a couple guidelines that may help:

  1. Make your case
    If your suggestions make sense and have logical benefits to the design, this is the easiest way to help.
  2. Pull your punches
    Make sure you say everything you're thinking -- this is vital for the critique to work -- but watch out for insulting language. They don't call it "constructive" criticism for nothing.
  3. Don't make it personal
    There's a big difference between personal opinion and relevant feedback. No one cares if you don't like pink, never liked pink, and in fact choked on bubble gum as a child and are traumatized by the color pink. What matters is that the color of the secondary callout is too bright and is stealing the focus from the main callout on the home page which adversely affects the way a user navigates... you get the point.
### Take it all in

Design can be a very personal thing. I often get attached to a design and think, "Wow, what a perfect little thing you are. You're so pretty and functional and you're going to do great in the world!" Then I get some criticism, and my perfect little thing isn't so perfect anymore. I get defensive and frustrated and I have to remind myself that this is work, and if there's something wrong with my work, I need to hear it.

  1. Acceptance is the first step
    For a design process to get the best results, you must open your work up to criticism. It's important to get opinions from everyone -- project managers, content specialists, programmers, spouses, friends -- not just designers. Then actually listen to what everyone has to say. Don't get defensive, they aren't trying to insult you. Remember, you asked for it.
  2. A glutton for punishment
    It can be hard enough asking for criticism once. Going back for a second helping almost seems foolish. Do it anyway. Get feedback whenever you reach a good stopping point, make changes, and repeat until there's nothing else to critique.
  3. It's not your baby
    ...it's your clients' baby, er, website/brochure/what-have-you. You can be as proud of your design as you want but if it doesn't work for your client, you've failed. Ultimately, it all comes down to what your client thinks and the effect it has on their business.
I can't stress enough how important criticism is to an effective design process. Incorporating it into key points along the way can really help a design. Whenever you think you've completed a milestone, open your work up for criticism and see if everyone else agrees. If not, listen to what they have to say and use their feedback to finish your work. Remember, process is key, and criticism is a key part of the process.
Design