Today’s Twitter gem was a Medium post from Mike Monteiro about the place for politeness in criticism–basically saying that politeness has to place in a design critique. Perhaps, but I think respect certainly has a place.
I agree with his premise that it’s “Better to get your nose bloodied in a critique of your peers, than to be slaughtered in a client’s conference room.” I disagree that a bloody nose is necessary “in a critique of [by] your peers.”
I’ll admit that I’ve delivered some of the aforementioned bloody noses–a practice that I’m working hard to reform. And, I’ve received a few, as well. In every case, the bloody nose experience wasn’t necessary, wasn’t constructive, and, in variably, was the result of just doing it wrong.
If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong, or you’re doing the wrong thing (or, you’re just out of shape).
So, how do you get constructive and effective criticism? He mentions some steps in his article that I think they bear repeating.
Get it early and get it often
Waiting until the last minute to get criticism is almost always asking for trouble. First, it’s unlikely that the designer will have time to apply any of the suggestions, so they will just be frustrating at best, and demoralizing at worst. A waste of everyone’s time, in any event, and contributing to the embarrassing experience in front of the client that he describes in the article.
It’s more constructive and effective to get frequent, small-scale, actionable feedback throughout the process, than to wait. This is not an “either or” choice, but a continuum. Nevertheless, lean towards the more frequent end of the spectrum, whenever you can.
Yes, we’re busy, but what goes around, comes around, and we’re all in this together.
Know (and state) the design scope and goal
The goal of the design might not be obvious. Likewise the scope of your involvement (and span of control) might not be obvious. To keep the criticism focused, keep the goals and scope of the design project visible.
Start by saying, for example, “I’d like you to review my redesign of the [xyz] home page to make it more accessible to an older audience. The changes include making the type easier to read, the call to action more visible, and to clarify the client’s value proposition. I’d like you to help me find aspects of the design that could be improved to meet those goals, better.”
In that, you’ve taken 60 seconds to focus the review.
The quality of answers is proportional to the quality of the questions.
If you find that you’re not getting the feedback you want, maybe you didn’t ask for the feedback you wanted. Don’t assume that everyone reviewing your work will know the goals of your design.
A friend told me that “Feedback is a gift.” So, like anytime you receive a gift from someone, thank them!
Next up, how to give a helpful and respectful critique.