It’s easy to tell someone that they’re doing something wrong, but how do you ensure that they’ll do it better next time?
I do freelance design jobs on the side, and as many other graphic designers out there will probably tell you, many clients often come back with feedback and changes. That’s all very well and good – they’re the client, they’re paying, they need to be happy.
But I recently had a job which was passed on to me by an agency, in which my work got butchered. The comments in the email were so passive-aggressive, they may as well have told me to just leave the industry for good. Yet at no point did they specify what was wrong with my design work, or how I could improve on it. It was simply a series of implied statements that read, “this is one of the worst things we’ve ever seen” and “this lacks creativity.”
It hurt, but fine. Not everyone has to like my work, and everyone is prone to creating something which is not great. But I do not expect feedback to be all cuts and no plasters. I at least expect to be told what, in their opinion, could be improved. So I thought I’d give these people a little lesson in how constructive criticism should be given.
Get straight to the point – Yes, so you didn’t like someone’s work. Fine. But just get to it. Don’t go beating around the bush. Just say it as it is and get on with it.
Be clear about what’s not right – Telling someone that something isn’t good doesn’t really narrow it down, does it? What didn’t you like? The vision? The execution? Be more specific and explain exactly what you think should and could have been done differently.
(At least, pretend to) be concerned – I realise that the world of business is a cut-throat one, but there’s no reason to be nasty when it’s clear that someone’s put time and effort into a job. I don’t send a piece of work in unless I’m happy with it. You may not be, and that’s your prerogative. But is there any need to be angry and scathing, particularly when it’s the first time you’re messaging with changes? In any case, just remember that the tone often overrides what’s being said, so being sarcastic doesn’t help either.
Have the balls to call someone – Everyone can hide behind a computer screen and say nasty things about someone else’s work or performance. Grab the phone and give that person a call, and explain exactly what’s wrong.
Leave your ego and interpretations out – You can’t criticise someone, particularly a creative, about something just because it wasn’t done the way you would have done it. People work in different ways, see the world differently, and thus execute the same task differently. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right or correct. If the final product doesn’t match the brief or is technically wrong, then that’s when you give constructive criticism.
So, please, everyone. Get off your high horse and get to grips with the fact that if you’re going to criticise someone or someone’s work, it better be warranted and beneficial.
Do you agree with James? Let us know in the comments section below!