Constructive Criticism is a touchy subject and can be difficult to deliver effectively. Some people even question whether or not it has developed into a healthy habit. David Airey, a brand identity designer, has posed the question of whether we should consider a more positive approach to the matter. Here are David Airey’s thoughts on Constructive Criticism. Although I don’t entirely agree with David, I think his question yields a great point: Our goal as Creative Solutionists is to explore as many solutions as we can. We believe that there is more than one solution to a problem and when we have an arsenal of these solutions, we can select the best one in an informed state. Constructive Criticism can steer us in a direction which can be overly bias at times. If taken the wrong way, this bias could rule out some great solutions. This goes against the ideal of creating multiple solutions – it becomes limiting.
What is Criticism?
Despite what many think, successful constructive criticism is dependent on both the critic and the criticized. Remember, the focus is on the project, not the criticism. We can’t really say criticism is successfully constructive just as long as we give it in delicate doses or sandwich a negative comment into two positive comments.
There are three levels of criticism;
2. Constructive Criticism
3. Successful Constructive Criticism
I am marking criticism as a catch-all for negative, unhelpful, or unrelated comments directed to someone’s solution.
The following comments would all fall into this category;
“I like it.”
“I don’t think this works.”
So would these comments;
“I think you can do better than that.”
“It doesn’t look like you put a lot of time into this project.”
“It looks dated.”
You get the point.
2. Constructive Criticism
Constructive criticism consists of helpful comments, positive or otherwise, that would help improve the solution or offer additional paths for other solutions. These other solutions could work on their own or be added to the current solution to enhance, augment, improve, etc. I believe we all know what constructive criticism is when we hear it, so I won’t go into examples.
3. Successful Constructive Criticism
Constructive criticism and successful constructive criticism have only one difference. Criticism is successfully constructive if it inspires the criticized to take action that improves their solution or it simply inspires them to consider other solutions. This is accomplished by a number of elements involving the critic and the criticized. In order to inspire the criticized to action, the critic should consider and present the following;
• an emotional consideration through the critic’s word choice and delivery
• a practical consideration through the solution’s context and audience
• an objective (goal) consideration through the solution’s purpose and intended outcome or response from the audience
In order for the criticized to be receptive to constructive criticism and thus gain value, he must realize to the following;
• the critic is on his side and is not attacking him or his solution
• the critic is offering as objective a solution as he possibly can
• the solution is not perfect and never will be, so openness to change and insight is needed
If all of these things are in place, there is great potential for successful constructive criticism. This type of criticism should always be desired, but never forced.
One final, important note: Action on the designer’s part could simply be considering the criticism and repositioning his frame of mind for a moment in an attempt to gain insight. Even if he doesn’t change anything, the time taken for earnest thought is action.
How to Give Successful Constructive Criticism
Here are a few things to remember when giving constructive criticism.
1. Talk About the Solution Rather Than Criticizing It
This may seem counter-intuitive, but often the best solutions are results from two or more people collaborating on an idea. You can do this in a critique as well. If you pose your critical comments as questions and open them for discussion, this gives the critiqued a chance to respond and add to the proposed criticism. The critique then becomes more of a design project instead of final words and thoughts on a solution. It’s amazing how it works.
2. Criticism Affects the Critic and the Criticized.
The manner in which you deliver your criticism and the words you choose to convey your thoughts can and will affect the person whose solution you are criticizing. Being harsh and unreasonable compromises your professionalism, approachability, and insight to effective alternative solutions. Usually this means that the person whose work you are critiquing will not take your remarks seriously and not ask for your input again.
3. Make Your Analysis as Unbiased and Objective as You Can.
We can never fully remove ourselves from subjectivity, but the better you can do this, the better your critique will be. Try to base your remarks on reason and logic rather than opinions and taste.
4. Always Remember the Purpose of the Item You are Critiquing.
Consider the target audience, the goals, and the intended outcome. Just because it seems boring and unappealing to you doesn’t mean that the intended audience will feel the same way. The most effective solutions aren’t always the ones that win awards.
5. Remember the Person Being Critiqued is a Human Being.
Not only a human being, but one that has placed himself on the critic’s cutting board. Be gentle, considerate, warm in tone, and careful with your words.
This is easier said than done and there are times when a little steel is necessary. Knowing the balance is key and the best way to learn this balance is to undergo constructive criticism yourself. Make note of your own emotional responses to a critic’s input, noting his tone, choice of words, approach, and consideration of you. This will make you more aware of potential sore spots when you give criticism.
Photo Credit Gary Denness
How to Receive Constructive Criticism and Turn it into Success
Here are some techniques for the Criticized.
1. Never Be Married to Your Work
I’ve said this already, but your solution can always use improvements. The key ingredient for you is to be receptive to other people’s opinions.
2. Be Willing to Change
If you ask for criticism regarding your solution but never had the intention to change anything, you are wasting everyone’s time. Some people do this because they really just want to brag and show off their work. This isn’t the right mindset for criticism and it usually makes you view remarks as personal attacks.
3. Understand That the Critic Isn’t Perfect
You don’t have to make the changes a critic says. They are suggestions from the critic’s point of view. Ultimately it is your responsibility to determine what is best for your solution.
Okay, now I need some constructive criticism from you. Would you add or take away anything to this list? Let me know and leave a comment.