How to Give Designers Effective Constructive Criticism

Ew, that’s ugly! Try purple.

Working as a designer in a fast-paced agency has its challenges. Not only do we have limited time to be creative, but our job relies on us producing work every day. There are many articles, books, and classes I leverage to stay productive and be the best designer I can be. However, I’m not here to speak into that. I’m here to talk about support, and how a strong team can help strengthen a designer’s work.

Before stepping into the topic of this blog post, I would like to preface with the quality of my team. I work with a very smart and efficient group of people. We are here to learn, grow, and kick ass. The following is much easier to implement with a great team, so hopefully you can check off that box.

When it comes down to it, we should all know how to speak to one another. There is no room for ego in the workplace, especially if your main goal is to produce great work efficiently. So how do we properly tell a designer that we see faults in their work? Well, let’s be honest, nobody is here to hold anyone’s hand. We need our teammates to point out anything that isn’t working or doesn’t properly communicate something. On the other side of that, we’ve all had to deal with people that think being overly wordy or rude is a great way to critique.

Just like anything, practice makes perfect (or better). Whether constructive criticism is spoken directly to someone or written in a task, we should always be specific and direct with our words.

An example of “bad” criticism:
This design does not look good. Can you try something else? Maybe try mixing things up a little. What if you try a different font, color, etc…

“This design does not look good.”

Being vague does not help anyone solve why the design is not effective. Be more specific with your comments so we know how to grow and improve our work. “The design is busy and it’s hard for my eye to be led anywhere.”

“Can you try something else? Maybe try mixing it up a little.”

Don’t add filler text to constructive criticism, especially if it is written down. This can make it harder for us to pinpoint what actually needs to change.

“What if you try a different font, colors, etc…”

It is more effective to speak directly towards the issue, rather than giving suggestions. Sometimes people don’t actually know what they don’t like — and that’s fine, too. But giving a suggestion that we aren’t confident in doesn’t help anyone. Try spending time figuring out what the actual design issue is. Even pull in another designer or team member to help discover the necessary solution.

It’s up to you:

It’s up to everyone to learn how to properly give constructive criticism. If you’re a designer, let people know if what they are saying could be adjusted to help you be more efficient. If you aren’t a designer, ask designers what they did to solve an issue and take note of it for next time. The bottom line is it’s all about communication. It’s up to everyone to continuously push the team forward. Remember, it’s not about who is right or wrong. It’s about a team that comes to the best possible solution for their clients.

Ray Hilton