It’s never easy to take criticism, even if it’s warranted and in the creative world, it’s even harder because design is so often subjective. Even well-meant and helpful criticism of creative work can be difficult to take when you’ve worked so hard on a project that means a lot to you personally.
However, if you don’t learn to take criticism effectively, you’ll never be able to grow as a designer. You’ll also find it incredibly difficult to build a professional career in any of the creative fields or industries.
In my experience as a freelancer for over 7 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of designers and have seen a wide variety of personalities and ways people deal with criticism, some good and some bad.
I myself have also received and dealt with a wide range of criticism. In this video I am going to discuss 10 ways you can deal with criticism.
1 – Develop a Positive Attitude
Now this may be one of the simplest, yet most important, ways to cope with criticism. It’s our state of mind and how we look at things which can often determine how we deal with any situation.
If we are in an anxious, fearful, defensive state of mind when receiving criticism we may not react well. If we put ourselves in a positive mindset then whatever negativity we may face, we will be in a good place to take it and it won’t be so hard.
If anyone happens to criticize your work, reacting positively can completely neutralise the situation. A positive attitude allows you to take control of the situation and avoid any hostility or negativity.
No matter the context you receive criticism, make sure you’re firm but polite, and that you don’t lose your professional cool.
Getting angry and defensive won’t make the situation any better. It will reflect far better on your reputation if you stay professional in all your dealings with creative critics, even destructive ones.
“Learn to use criticism as fuel and you’ll never run out of energy.”– Orrin Woodward
2 – Develop a Thick Skin
If you want to work in a creative industry, you need to have a thick skin and not let negative comments or criticism impact you on a personal level.
This is something you have to get used to without letting it shake your confidence, or make you unsure about showcasing your designs again.
In fact, it’s often part of the teaching method when you study graphic design. Teachers, professors, and lecturers will often be as critical as possible of all your assignments—nitpicking every little detail.
This will help you become less protective over your design work and allow you to develop that all-important thick skin.
3 – Always Be Open to Hearing Other People’s Thoughts
Closing your mind off to criticism will stop you from growing and developing your skills and eye for detail. If you aren’t willing to even listen to a negative comment, then people will be unlikely to want to work with you.
“Criticism at its best is re-creative, not spirit killing.”– Camille Paglia
Unless you’re already a highly sought after designer whose work speaks for itself and your personal reputation doesn’t matter, you may struggle to find a job in a creative field.
Just know, whenever you put your portfolio online and out into the world in whatever context, you’re going to get feedback you probably won’t like—unless you’re showing your latest design to your grandmother. It’s part of the creative industry.
If you aren’t doing something worth talking about—good or bad—why are you doing it all?
4 – Learn to Recognize the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism
Now, not all criticism is equal. Some people will try and help you improve, while others will try to tear you down just because they can.
Constructive feedback will usually pinpoint specific areas you need to work on and provide examples, guidance or offer solutions on how to make those improvements.
Destructive feedback will usually degrade your abilities or won’t offer any way to improve by simply saying that the design is wrong or not good enough.
That isn’t helpful. Think about how the critic phrased the feedback to decide if it was constructive or destructive.
5 – Always Consider the Opinion but Remember ‘It’s Just an Opinion’
In whatever way feedback comes, it’s always good to consider the opinion and even thank the person for pointing it out. After all, they did make an effort to comment.
You are never too pro to take criticism!
When you receive criticism, it’s healthy to consider how and if it could improve what you have done, though keep in mind you don’t have to react and make changes necessarily.
It was, after all, one person’s opinion. Experience will help you learn when to make changes and when to ignore what’s said.
6 – Be Ready to Counter Criticism
More often than not, unless you have made a big mistake, criticism can be simply subjective. When you undertake your design work, you should always aim to avoid making arbitrary decisions.
Make sure that you consider each decision well and have a good reason and rationale behind it. Good reasons always trump subjective reasons and personal tastes. If your design works, then it doesn’t matter what anyone ‘feels’ about it. Remember, design is not art. When it comes to design, likes and dislikes are irrelevant!
What matters is if a design works well or not for its intended goal. Sometimes a design will work and be appropriate, but may not be to everyone’s tastes.
If you ever find yourself receiving criticism from a subjective, personal taste point of view, be ready to counter with good reasons and rationale. Make sure the criticism is objective, not subjective.
7 – Take Personal Feelings Out of the Equation
Because creating a design is a personal endeavor—even when it’s a profession—it can be difficult to separate yourself from the criticism. Just remember that proper constructive criticism is not a personal attack on you.
It’s important to put the focus onto the work and realize that the design’s style and sentiment may be an extension of you, but the execution of the work is not. It’s completely okay for negative feedback to hurt. In fact, it’s important to acknowledge hurt feelings from negative feedback.
Just remember that it’s an opinion, and that opinion from another person doesn’t define your creative abilities or you as a person. Then, when dealing with the feedback and the person giving it, it’s important not to let those emotions cloud your judgement.
8 – Silence Them if the Timing is Wrong
Now well-intentioned feedback can often come completely at the wrong time. If there’s nothing you can do to change a design on display or in use currently, it might be best to ask the person if you can pick up the conversation after a campaign or piece is complete.
That way, the negative feedback won’t impact your focus on the current project. However, you’ll still be able to digest the thoughts and learn from the feedback for your next project.
9 – Don’t Be Afraid to Ignore or Walk Away
Sometimes criticism won’t be helpful and will just end up hurting you. In those cases, you need to thank them for their opinion and walk away.
Continuing to engage after it’s clear that the person simply likes the sound of their own voice will only be damaging. This is especially true in this day and age, where people can sit behind a desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device and be extremely vocal in their opinion.
When facing unwarranted, unnecessary, or overzealous criticism, always remember the golden rule of online interaction—don’t feed the trolls!
Just ignore it!
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without washing away his roots.”– Frank A.
10 – Always See Criticism as a Learning Opportunity
No matter how criticism comes or wherever it comes from, remember to always see it as a potential learning opportunity. After all, any criticism is better than no criticism. Whatever criticism you receive, you have the power to take it or leave it.
And odds are there is a chance you may learn something from it. As mentioned, I’ve worked with hundreds of designers over the years and have received huge amounts of criticism.
I have always tried to receive criticism well from wherever it comes, taking it as a learning opportunity to grow as a designer.
Even today I am still learning, and I maintain a positive outlook. I have received lots of criticism over the years, both bad and good, and without it I would not be the designer I am today.
So the lesson here is to always be open to learning. Criticism can feel harsh at the time, but if you can find a way to cope with it, criticism can really help you grow as a designer. Ensure the criticism is constructive, comes at the right time and always remember that at the end of the day, it is only someone’s opinion.
This article was contributed by Alisa Taylor from Hewlett Packard
Alisa Taylor, editor at large and content slinger, shares awesome vibes and magic words wherever she drops her ink. Her strongest areas are business, graphic design and education, but she’s always looking to refresh knowledge and widen expertise. She loves taking her dogs for long walks in the woods, and after that, she spends her breaks on gaming and reading.
If you have any other design topics you would like to see me discuss, be sure to pop them in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll look to create another discussion video in future.