Last week, we brought you Dennis Field’s tips on how to give designers better feedback. So this week we thought we’d talk a bit about what you can do to keep calm and keep creating when you get feedback that makes you want to go flip some tables.
1. Review sessions are review sessions
Don’t expect anyone to walk into a review session and say how nice your design is. Why? Because it’s a review session. The people who are coming to look at your work don’t have the time to congratulate you for doing your job. They’re there to identify and discuss what isn’t working, not what is. For every “negative” comment, every critique, there are probably a dozen things that are working just fine.
The people who are coming to look at your work don’t have the time to congratulate you for doing your job.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t occasionally get praise, or at least acknowledgment. Just don’t expect it.
Pro tip: the great part about not expecting it is that when praise does come, you really feel it. It’s kind of like keeping your expectations low when you go to see a hyped-up movie. Like I wish I had when I went to see Prometheus.
2. Feedback is never negative
Sure, it might feel pretty negative when someone’s telling you that your design just doesn’t work, that an interaction is unclear, or the look lacks that “wow factor.” But when feedback is properly feedback—and not just subjective kvetching—it comes from a genuine desire to make a product as good as it can be.
You can’t think of everything. Nor are you always on the absolute top of your game. The repetitive application of a “creative” skill can wear you down sometimes, and even when you’re feeling good, quality can vary. And sometimes invaluable critique that leads to a sweeping redesign comes from knowledge or understanding that you simply didn’t have when creating the original product.
But the thing to remember when you’re getting feedback is that how you take it is more important than how they give it. At least, when it comes to your sanity. It’s your attitude, how you choose to receive the feedback that you’re given. Don’t think defensively, accept and (if possible) expand upon what makes sense, and argue against what doesn’t.
The most important thing to remember when you’re getting feedback is that how you take it is more important than how they give it.
It’s not about meekly accepting whatever feedback you’re given—if you have objections backed by solid reasoning, share them. That’s just sharing your expertise, showing your skills and knowledge on the fly (which is kinda redeeming when you’re catching hell for not perfectly solving the problem). But it is about being to able to recognize the right solution when it becomes apparent, even when the person providing it isn’t the “right one” (i.e., you).
3. Everybody’s a designer
You’ve probably heard writers complain about this one. Everybody’s a writer, we lament. But it’s as true it is for you designers as it is for us writers: everyone you know has tried their hand at design.
Sure, they don’t all do it in Photoshop or Sketch. (Though some undoubtedly do.)
But they design their days. Their careers, their eating habits, their inbox, even their exercise regimen. These are all forms of design—and chances are, they’re pretty good at them. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be in a position to give you feedback.
They’re more or less good at it, yes—and if you’re worth your salt, you’re generally better.
But that doesn’t make you 24-7 on. (See point 2.) And when you’re aren’t nailing it, you’ve got smart, articulate people all around you to help you see what’s missing. Don’t miss out on what they’ve got to say just because their title doesn’t include 'designer.'
(It’s also worth noting that many of your coworkers are also very experienced with the web—and just about anyone on the web has had their fair share of awful designed experiences. That alone can make their opinion worth hearing.)
Don’t miss out on what they’ve got to say just because their title doesn’t include “designer.”
4. It’s not about you
The distinction between what you do and who you are can get mighty fuzzy—and that’s especially true of designers. While a product manager doesn’t go home at the end of the day and manage product development (at least, I hope not), your average professional designer never stops designing. From the checkout line at Safeway to the button placement on an ATM, most product designers are always looking for a way to improve an experience.
So it can be hard not to be struck dumb, thrown into doubt, when someone criticizes your work. It’s like they’re criticizing you.
Showing that you can hear and respond thoughtfully to feedback will almost always reflect well on you.
But they’re not. They’re critiquing your work. It’s an output, not your essence.
Sure, you thought you had the right solution at the time, but maybe you just didn’t nail it. It’s worth considering. And if you think you did, say so — whoever’s critiquing you is just sharing one person’s opinion. (Though it bears remembering they might have really relevant knowledge you don’t.) Showing that you can hear and respond thoughtfully to feedback reflects well on you.
5. Creation is communication
No matter what you create — UIs, wireframes, novels, sonatas, code — you do it out of a desire, an urge, a need to communicate. You not only have an idea — you want to share it.
But how do you know you’re communicating correctly if you don’t seek and hear the input of others? After all, they’re the people you’re trying to communicate with. (Or they’re not, and it behooves you to point that out, so long as the people you’re trying to communicate with do understand.)
As hard, as self-doubt-inducing as it can be to get negative feedback, it’ll help you grow as a creative. And if it won’t — if it’s actually harmful, destructive criticism that will set you back — you’ll learn to disregard it. You’ll learn, hopefully, to tell the difference between the input that comes from a helpful place, and the stuff that doesn’t.
How do you know you’re communicating your idea correctly if you don’t seek and hear the input of others?
Feedback can be a gift
Note in the above that I never once called feedback a gift. Feedback is not a gift. No one gives you feedback on your work for your sake. To help you grow. (Though it certainly can and should.) They’re giving it to you so you can make the product better. They’re not coaching you, they’re collaborating with you.
Making the distinction between feedback that’s for and about you and the feedback that’s for and about your work will go a very, very long way to helping you keep your cool.