Seeking criticism on something as subjective as design can be a complicated process. There is no right or wrong. It depends on every individual’s perspective. A perspective that has been shaped by varied experiences and personal choices. Which is why it can be difficult to accept feedback and look at your work from a different point of view. That being said, getting critiqued is also a necessary evil. Unless and until you have expressed your work to the client, you will never grow as a designer.
As tedious as this may sound, today we are attempting to simplify the process of handling criticism to help reduce the stress and anxiety that comes along with it.
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The first step in this process is to be able to ‘declare’ your work to the audience. This is not achieved only by showing your work, but clearly stating your objective behind it.
Any work that you undertake has specific challenges. Start by telling your client the challenge, as you saw it. State the goal you had in mind when you decided to tackle the challenge, with clarity. The objective you wanted to achieve and your thinking behind it. If you have a story or a process that you followed, this is a good time to talk about it. Aligning the client with these specific points is important. It puts things in perspective for your audience and helps them understand where you are coming from.
Why did you take a direct or an indirect approach? What was your inspiration? Was there some research done to back it? Why did you choose only two ways to do it? These are simple yet effective questions that show your complete preparation and seriousness for the job at hand.
Being prepared also instills a great deal of confidence in your own work, which in turn shows the client that you know what you are talking about. It builds the client’s confidence in you as well.
Once your point has been put across, go ahead and reveal your work.
Listening is definitely not as easy as it sounds. While taking criticism, curb your initial instincts. It is easy to get carried away and start defending oneself in this situation. However, try to stay calm and do not jump to conclusions. Remember, nobody is passing judgment on you. Hear out the various critiques and note them down if required. Know that criticism is good and do not take it personally.
It is important to know that every piece of criticism is a product of the experiences the critic has had over the years. Take into consideration his point of view and try to mirror it with the experiences you have had. Maybe you missed out on something small or crucial even.
Listen to the feedback from a third person perspective. This is important as it helps in removing yourself from the critique and look at things from a different angle. It also makes you articulate your defense in a manner that will not sound …well… too defensive.
Be aware of your reaction to the feedback. Take a deep breath before countering the client’s point. If you disagree with something, try to make them understand your perspective. If it seems difficult at that moment, buy some time and tell them you will get back with a solution soon. On the contrary, if you are in agreement to the feedback, accept it graciously and assure your client that it will be implemented.
Listening to client criticism and understanding the same are two completely different things. You might understand the way things are said differently than what is expected. At this point, it is important to ask for specifics.
Paraphrase the feedback that is given to you. This is the best way in which you can make effective use of criticism. Ask the client if ‘this’ is what he expects, stating clearly the finer points. Note them down as points to be implemented and move on to the next critique. Remember, the aim of understanding feedback is to have everyone on the same page.
Your interpretation of what is said can vary from what is expected. Understanding this variation is what lies at the crux of this step. The key here is to ask the right questions. “Could you please elaborate?” or “…is this what you mean?” are the kind of questions that can help you peel off layers of unnecessary sentences and arrive at the core solution. This is also critical as it differentiates vague feedback from constructive criticism. If a client is unable to back his criticism with specific reasons, then it’s time to dig deeper and understand what he means.
As the feedback process ends, make sure you thank the critic for their time and effort. Whether the feedback was effective or not, this will help mellow the atmosphere and pave the way for a future constructive relationship.
Client criticism doesn’t just end at discussions. It is a long drawn process that starts and ends with you. It is only you who can see it through to its successful conclusion. Hence, implementation becomes a crucial step in this process.
Here it is necessary to follow the rules and action the feedback as it was discussed. Deviating from the criticism can lead to more problems. Learn from the critique and action your work to perfection. Remember, the feedback has only added more facets to your personality and made you a better worker.
However, during this process, if you have another point of view or a new direction to implement the idea, do it. Keep it as a second option and use it only when you see the initial idea failing.
In conclusion, designing is all about reading the minds of your audience, and it can take practice. You learn by experience and constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there and take feedback. Learn from it and develop yourself. Try to be objective without getting too emotional. If you wish to do good work, you can’t run away from criticism.
There will be critics everywhere, just know that they can be your future clients. Listen to them, understand them and learn from their feedback.
What is your experience with client criticism? Tell us in the comment section below.