“You suck”. How to take criticism as a designer.

Jan 13, 2019 • 3 min readfalse views

Sergey Krasotin

Desing Director, Humbleteam

Credits:

Daniel Tkachenko

Anton Stupnev

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4 steps to handle any feedback you can get. A commision! You finish the first draft, pat yourself on the back, and send it to your client. Ping. They’ve replied:

“Don’t like it. Not what I was expecting. Start over.”

Oh shit. That first piece of criticism hurts. Especially when it’s so blunt you’re left feeling like you’ve been hit with a ten-ton hammer. But before you consider hanging up your designer hat for good, let’s talk about it.

Working in a design agency, I’ve had my fair share of crap feedback. We all have. So let me guide you through how to deal with it, and move forward. Or if the client has a point, how to suck it up in style.

1. Don’t let your emotions take over

Nobody likes criticism, especially when it’s not well-deserved. But now’s not the time to get emotional. Let off steam over some sport instead.

Remember that it’s rare to get it perfect first time. That’s why you offered the client a round of edits in the first place, remember?

You’re the professional here, and staying cool under pressure is all part of the job, so take a few minutes to get your zen on before replying.

2. Understand your client’s frustration

Your client is paying good money for their design, so it makes sense that they want to get it just so before parting with their hard-earned cash. You might be the professional here, but they’re the customer. And the customer is always right. Well, most of the time.

And even when they’re not? Roll with the punches. Blunt criticisms of your work aren’t necessarily a true reflection of what they think anyway. Just as you freaked out on reading your client’s feedback, they probably reacted with their heart when seeing your design for the first time. This is their brainchild after all.

Tiredness, business and general crankiness can all lead to feedback that’s less than glowing. Accept that and move on.

3. Deconstruct the feedback

Vague and unconstructive feedback is impossible to work with, so don’t even try. Instead, put together a list of questions for your client.

What exactly didn’t they like about the design? And most importantly, why? Were the colors slightly off? Did they find the interaction confusing? Maybe it looked too similar to a competitor’s app?

Bad feedback doesn’t mean you have to scrap all your hard work and start over. Well, unless you really phoned it in. In which case, suck it up.

To get to the bottom of your client’s frustrations, try responding with something like this:

“I feel your frustration and appreciate your feedback. Let’s find out what’s not working for you. Could you please clarify what the current solution lacks? We‘ll address those points directly and prepare a new version.”

It’s fair, it’s to the point, and it’s bound to get a helpful response.

4. Share your point of view

As an expert in your field, you should be able to justify your decision process. If you think your work has been unfairly judged, don’t hold back from sharing your point of view. It might even help the client to see things in a different way.

Just don’t use your experience or expertise as ammo. That’s not gonna fly–trust me. Instead, focus on things like platform guidelines, common design patterns, user research or examples of similar interactions from already successful applications. This will subtly suggest to your client that you know your stuff, all while staying impeccably professional.

4a. Suck it up, you might really be wrong

Even really great designers make really crappy work from time to time. Embrace the reality: you’re human, and mistakes happen. The great thing about this business is that there’s a chance to fix them. And most importantly learn from them.

Sure, that’s not going to stop you moaning to anybody who’ll listen. But it might just push you to get better.

Stay humble, guys.

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