6 Quick Tips for Receiving Critiques Gracefully

Dec 26 2010 by Shannon Noack | 16 Comments

6 Tips for Receiving Critiques Gracefully

Designers receive critiques on an everyday basis; from the clients they are working for, friends that want to help, and colleagues that want to share their opinion. As professionals, we need to be able to handle ourselves gracefully in these situations.

But controlling your emotions and accepting critiques in a professional manner isn’t always the easiest thing to do. However, feedback–negative or positive–is important in our line of work, and necessary in order to produce design work that meets the requirements of our clients and bosses.

Receiving critiques is also a great way to grow as a designer. By allowing yourself to learn from others–even if they aren’t designers–you may uncover certain aspects about your work that you may not have thought existed.

Here are some suggestions for handling design critiques well.

1. Listen

First and foremost, you must listen to the feedback that is being relayed to you, whether you consider it valuable (constructive) or not. Many times, we form snap judgments about the feedback being given to us even before we internalize them simply based on the person giving the critique, what the person’s design experience is, and so forth. Give your critic the benefit of the doubt and hear what she has to say with an open mind. Only then can you respond appropriately.

2. Keep Your Emotions in Check

Designers tend to be a passionate bunch. We work hard to create strong designs, and deliver what we feel to be our best work, all of the time. It’s tough to hear that someone doesn’t love what we’ve done, but we must keep in mind that everyone sees the world differently and appreciates Design in a different way.

When receiving feedback from a client, you have to leave your emotions and your attitude aside. I’ve seen many designers get too emotionally involved in a project (I’m sure we’re all guilty of this at some point!) and they can’t bear to hear that their client/colleague/friend has issues with the design they’ve produced.

Step back and listen to what they have to say. Step away from the situation temporarily if you have to, in order to avoid overreacting and exploding.

3. Appreciate New Opinions

Receiving feedback from others is a great opportunity to see how others view your work. I know what I like and what I think works best, but my client knows their audience better than I do, and may be able to offer some deeper insight into how they will respond to the design I’ve produced. They aren’t designers, but I can still appreciate the different opinions they hold. If the suggestions work well, I could incorporate their ideas into the design.

4. Criticism Management Can Lead to Better Work Relationships

Whether you’re a freelancer, a business owner, or an in-house designer for a company, you can earn respect from others by accepting their feedback in a tasteful manner.

Everyone appreciates it when his or her opinions are being heard and considered. The better you can handle critiques, the more you’ll be respected by the people you work with. When people see that you can handle feedback gracefully, they’ll be more inclined to work with you.

5. Remember Who’s Footing the Bill

In the end, you are creating something for someone else, and they must be satisfied with the outcome.

Even if they request changes that aren’t necessarily in their best interest, the best you can do is offer your expert recommendation. If they still don’t agree, accept the critique, make the changes, and move on.

6. Learn from Others

The most valuable part of receiving critiques gracefully is the opportunity we get to learn from them. We may have thought we created the best design we possibly could, but a client may think of something to add that brings the design to a completely new level, or come up with an idea we’ve never even considered. Everyone has different ideas and everyone can offer new ways to push our designs further.

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About the Author

Shannon Noack is a designer in Arizona and the Creative Director of Snoack Studios. Designing is her passion in life and she loves to create websites, logos, print work–you name it. She also blogs regularly here and you can connect with her on Twitter as well.

16 Comments

Floris

December 26th, 2010

Shannon, you’re so right. And it’s important. I’ve lost a friendship this winter due to the inability of the other party to take criticism of their work. Such a shame.

denbagus

December 26th, 2010

thank you for this tips :)

Vivek Parmar

December 27th, 2010

listening to client is something we have to understand and when we finish our work for a client and he says that he had issues or doesn’t like it. really its a pain for you.
will keep these tips in mind thanks for sharing

Rajib Roy

December 27th, 2010

thank you for this tips

SeriesAddict

December 27th, 2010

Self control is hard, but vital.
Thanks for the tips

tom okeefe

December 27th, 2010

Back in the early 80′s I started out as a graffiti artist http://www.flickr.com/photos/targetone/ and no one could ever critique your work without having attitude and even fighting (as silly as that may sound)It’s all about ego’s and no one is better than you attitude. So when I started to work in the industry in the early 90′s I realized real quick that you just can’t get upset when someone has an “opinion” and you learn how to take it in and fine the valid points and build off of it.

Learn your target audience and be able to educate your client. Even though you’re client is “Footing the bill” it’s your job to sell the design and show how it fits your client’s audience.

As a designer I don’t design for myself. What I personally like may not be something I would ever design for a client. I design for what’s best for the product/project. Problems start when designers ego’s get in their way and when they have that “it’s either my way or no other way” attitude.

If you educate your client and even show a side-by-side comparison with your direction and what your client likes and show them why your direction is better and back it up with data and usability testing etc you’re be fine. Your client will end up respecting your direction.

–Tom

Shannon

December 27th, 2010

Thanks for the great feedback everyone! Glad you’ve enjoyed the tips and have found them useful. It’s a topic that we can all benefit from as designers and something I’m sure we can all work on and improve.

Gagan

December 27th, 2010

Nice Write up there….something we as designers face everyday!!

Michael Guill

December 27th, 2010

Number 5 is key, in my opinion. You, as a designer, have a responsibility to give whomever is paying the bill your expert opinion.

Just remember that it’s only your opinion. Sometimes it’s better to just shut up and color, and then send your invoice. :)

Joshua Lay

December 27th, 2010

I agree with @tom okeefe,

Each design has a purpose… a set of goals. It’s about explaining how your design meets those goals and why. It’s your job in helping your client providing critique in the same structure.

There’s a huge difference between complaining and critique. Critique is grounded to the design achieving certain goals. Complaining is seeded too much in personal preferences which have negligible benefits, as the client is never usually the target audience for the design.

Roberto

December 28th, 2010

God tips to remember. Thanks.

tom okeefe

December 28th, 2010

@Joshua– on point! :)
@Michael — Unless the client is paying my rate to do production work or to be a designer monkey then sure I buy that. I’ll do what ever they ask. Pink background? Sure! Purple circles? Sure what ever you say boss.

I’ll rather direct the client to what’s best. I would also say for the most part it’s not an opinion.

Me: I would recommend this design blah blah blah…

Client: Why? I told you I like purple butterflies with pink bunnies.

Me: Well, after doing research I found this design would work best, I also tested it with users that are your target base you’re trying to market to. Along with my other clients in the past that are in the same industry as you I feel this is the best direction to go. Teen boys ages 18-21 don’t like butterflies and pink bunnies. :-)

Client: *High-Five* LMFAO!

-Tom

Jonathan

December 28th, 2010

Accepting no.5 is possibly the hardest, because it means you have to accept what you think is not your best work. This is particularly difficult when you consider that in many cases you are only as good as your last job (and bad-mouthing a previous client to a future one is of course professional suicide).

However, all is not lost if you are a good designer, because you will have a solid rationale for doing what you do. If the will of a stakeholder overrides that, find a metric for the harm you think their decision will make. If you can demonstrate that harm has been realised, you might be able to use that to persuade them to revert to your original design at a later date, and snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Graham

December 29th, 2010

Great tips!
I think receiving critisism is a hard thing most designers.
I guess it is because our emotions flow through our work, but being able to build on the opinion of others is really useful.

tom okeefe

December 29th, 2010

What I think it worst then dealing with one difficult client is dealing with “Design by Committee” by far the most difficult project is when you have a group of people that all have say in the direction of the project.

I had one project that took me over 30-days to design the type for a logo/branding for a new start-up Brightcove.com and I worked with the CEO on other start-ups (went smoothly) worked with the VP of Marketing on other start-ups(went smoothly) but when it was (6) people together in a room that all had a stake in the business it was a F”n nightmare. I wanted to walk away from it at one point. I didn’t want to disrupt things that much since I received over a dozen clients from each of them. I wouldn’t make every change requested but I worked with them and came up with a decent end result. about 2 years later they ended up updating their brand and in the end everyone on that Committee ended up getting the changes they wanted.

Later I was talking with the VP of Marketing and this is what he told me.
“Tom… the problem was this. What we needed was someone to walk in and “TELL US” what is good and NOT let us run the show.” I agree with that 100%

Anyways. Good article and good dialog on this thread.

-T

Shannon

December 30th, 2010

Love the conversation!

@tom okeefe – you make a good point, critique is all about emotion and opinion. I think that’s why we take it so personally :) You do have to learn to put that aside and take from it what you can, very true! I agree with another of your comments as well.. I would much rather give my two cents than design whatever they ask for. Sure they are paying, but if it doesn’t really work for them, I haven’t done my job in educating them.

@Joshua Lay – I agree, it’s as much our job to critique and educate them as it is to take their opinions and complete the work. They are paying us for our expertise after all!

@Jonathan – Good points! Although I don’t think all is lost if your client “wins” the battle. I know I’ve learned how to deal with future clients through my lost battles and am able to educate different people differently through these interactions.

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