Dealing with Design Critiques
Even the most talented designers in the world receive negative feedback on their work. Design is, to a large extent, a matter of taste — and the people we work for sometimes dislike the flavors we employ in the designs we make for them. We asked a few designers and artists how they handled feedback to get a glimpse of the strategies they use for handling critical appraisals of their work.
Ask For Specific Feedback
One way of managing negative critiques is to avoid them in the first place. By giving your employer a structured approach for assessing your work, you can sidestep evaluations based simply on the whim and tastes of an individual.
Even Chris Spooner, an extraordinary designer and celebrated blogger who has been featured in industry-leading publications like .NET magazine and Web Designer magazine, isn’t a stranger to negative feedback from his clients.
"Avoid the words ‘What do you think?’" Chris Spooner advised. "As designers we don’t want to get into personal opinions, we want to make something that works for a particular audience or succeeds in solving a certain problem. Asking what a client thinks opens up a whole can of wiggly worms and can quickly result in ‘I don’t like blue’ type responses that are completely unrelated to the purpose of the design you’re working on."
Instead, he suggests tailoring your questions toward the goal of the project with pointed and narrow questions such as, "Does the blue relate to the 12-16 year old male target audience?"
Develop a Tough Skin
It is hard to hear that the design we slaved on for a long period of time is not good enough. There will be a few rare moments when you present your work to your clients and they are wholly satisfied with it — but for the most part, you will have to concede to the fact that you will always receive negative criticism.
"Sometimes you may feel like everything you are designing is being rejected or torn apart," said Eric Vasquez, a designer and artist whose work has been presented in Advanced Photoshop Magazine and The Art of Fashion Art Exhibit. "I have done work for some people and had them say some outright negative things about my work, before I was even finished!"
"In the end, I think this type of criticism is necessary because it helps you develop that tough skin," Vasquez asserted. "It is important to stay focused, get as much information as possible, and really listen to your client so that you can deliver."
Conduct Yourself Professionally and Keep Your Cool
When soliciting feedback, it’s imperative to remain professional, no matter how the client responds. It’s also helpful to not be too attached to your work.
When presenting your piece to your boss, be confident, provide your expert opinion, and outline the purpose and intent of your design choices.
Grace Smith, a freelance graphic and web designer (whose work has been featured in Computer Arts magazine) and highly respected design blogger, shared, "I always make the distinction between personal and professional, which I feel has made me both a better designer and person."
"When receiving criticism, I keep my defensive reaction in check and remember that how I respond to criticism says a lot about me as a person," Smith shared. "I’ve found that presenting a concept to the client with a detailed explanation, the more understanding the client has of the overall design. This usually means I receive less of a negative gut reaction and more constructive feedback."
Don’t Take it Personally
When we receive negative feedback about our work, sometimes it feels as though it is also a criticism about our design tastes, style, and vision. But it is imperative to keep in mind that design is subjective.
Ms. Cavan shared an experience she had with her design critics: "I’ve received screaming emails saying’my design is too flashy, citing a design they liked, which was a 90’s-looking site that was square and flat. It was inevitable to feel frustrated."
Stand Up for Your Design Choices
If you believe that the negative feedback you are getting is unwarranted, keep in mind that you are the professional. You were hired because of your expertise and experience.
Justify your reasons for doing something a certain way if you feel strongly about the particular aspect of your work that is being critiqued. If the critique is about the color scheme, for example, share your logic as to why you selected the color combinations. If you are having a difficult time explaining it, or if your design choice was arbitrary, then your client may be right.
"I try to find out exactly what they don’t like about the piece," said Simona Pfreundner, a German graphic designer and illustrator transplanted to Montreal, Canada. "If I feel strongly that the piece is good, I’ll try to explain the design to the client."