Having your work criticized is never a pleasant experience, but if you are able to see it as constructive, and use it positively, then you will see improvements in your work. It will also stop you getting to big headed, and will help you move on to greater things.
Constructive criticism can also make you more aware of certain characteristics you are bringing to web design. For example:
Bad habits : We are often blind to our own bad habits, as they become ingrained gradually over time. Constructive criticism is good at breaking the mould you have developed, and improvements to your web designs follow.
Offers a challenge: If your work is never criticized, your standards are going to be your own, and there will be no incentive to improve your web design standards to meet a fresh challenge.
Responding in the right way: After you have received your first wave of criticism, you will find it easier to respond to subsequent criticism and thus you will find you become a better communicator, which is handy in the web design business.
Takes more than self motivation: Outside motivation can blow away the cobwebs and pushes you to learning a new technique or design skill. Criticism is often the outside motivator, think of it as a harsh but fair aerobics instructor.
You really are not the best: A good healthy dose of criticism is clearly like medicine in many respects, it tastes rubbish, but it does you good. In the case of web design, it reinforces the fact that you are not the best designer in the world, and indeed you are no better than any of your colleagues. This stops the ego ruining what could have been good work, and makes it easier for your colleagues and the wider world to work with you.
So, now you know why you need it, how do should you handle it?
The right way to take criticism: The way to handle criticism is to realise it is not a personal attack. It is merely a comment on your work. Though this can be a very difficult distinction to make, the commentators are merely expressing their opinion. You probably will not agree with it, but there opinions on your work are just as valid as yours. If you can rise above anger and outrage, and look at your work objectively, then you not only have done well, but you will produce a better piece of work. In essence making the distinction between personal and professional, will make you a better designer, and a better person too.
Remember that though web design has to be functional, it is a design process and like all other design processes, it is subjective, and therefore by definition there is no “right way”. Everyone will have their own view point, so when you show your work to your client or boss, expect them not to like it, and be open to ideas.
State the goal, so you don’t miss the net: When you are showing your work to someone for criticism, ensure that they understand the purpose of the project before hand. Even if it is someone who has no knowledge of the project or its purpose. In doing this, all the feedback will be relevant to what you are trying to achieve, and in doing so you are minimising the chances of irrelevant criticism in relation to the design purpose.
How you react: The way in which you respond to criticism says a lot about you as a person. Do not worry, I am not here to tell you how rubbish you are as a human being, but just to say that most people get defensive when criticized. It is a natural reaction, as let’s face it, all those hours of work being pulled apart makes you feel deflated and a little worthless.
However, if you can keep the defensive reaction in check, and just let the dust settle for a bit, you will gather the strength to climb back on the horse and start again. This is all part of the learning curve for a designer. Web design is a tough world, and this is truly an invaluable lesson to learn in your web design career. Over time, you will come to see that at least 90% of the criticisms you have received have had a positive effect on your work.
Unconstructive criticism: Sadly, we do live in a world where people just love to be negative or are not happy until they are putting some people down. This make things hard in the design world, as separating constructive comments and ones given through malice can be difficult. Constructive criticism should really be:
Specific – Logical and defined.
Actionable – After receiving criticism you have a clear idea on what needs to be done to improve the design, and meet expectations.
Objective – This kind of criticism will be even tempered and purely based on the work you have produced, and not be influenced by any outside factor, like a personal vendetta.
Criticism gives us valuable lessons: Criticism is really a guide on how you can improve your skills, providing you act on what you have learned. Should you not go away and try and address the issues where the criticism is targeted, then really the comments are wasted and you will never achieve your full potential.
If one aspect of what you do is constantly criticized, then take steps to improve it. This will benefit you in the long run, and make you a better designer.
Seek a fresh perspective: Sometimes, it is better to take a break from a head down approach to a project which is not going well. If you have found your last three efforts to get it right are missing the mark, then maybe a change in approach is what is needed.
As you have taken inspiration from other works, whether it be web design related or not, you can do the same from criticism. Providing you can separate the personal and the professional. Taking a break and coming back fresh can help free you from the rut you are in. Coming back fresh brings a new perspective, which could be just what is needed to break the mould and design that constantly criticized website, in a new, fresh way.
Vagueness: Occasionally, you will find that the criticism is not very specific, and this can be a sign that the critic is shielding you from their true thoughts. Though this can be a difficult thing to do, asking questions that are open ended in nature, can help you get to the heart of the matter. For example:
“You say the logo is ugly, how can I improve it?”
“Can you be more specific, I’m not following you?”
If you still feel you are getting nowhere, it could be an idea to approach someone you trust for a more honest, open opinion on your work. This may be the only way to get a constructive opinion, and get round the problem of vagueness.
Saying thank you pays dividends: Always thanking the critic, even if you feel the criticism was harsh or unfair. In doing so you will become a better designer. It also helps overcome innate avoidance of criticism, and over time you may find that a critic can be like a mentor to you, and their opinions become a bench mark for you to measure the standard of your work.
It will also help you feel better about the whole criticism process.
Though criticism can feel like you have taken a heavy blow to the jaw, picking yourself up, learning from it, and getting on with it will make you not only a better designer, but a better person as well. Being a good designer, is about taking the knocks as well as the praise.