How to give and receive constructive criticism
It’s hard to believe but we’ve been back at university for two weeks now, and by this point there’s already been a few shared moments of critique between both classmates and tutors. Critique happens all the way through the creative process and it’s not only important but also really helpful. It can sometimes be difficult to confidently move forward with your ideas without any feedback or direction from your peers or tutors, which is why it’s important to know not only how to receive critique from others, but also how to provide constructive feedback for your fellow students.
Putting your work out there for other people to see can be a daunting task; trust me, I know. When you’ve worked hard on a piece of design and have put your creative skills to work, it can be hard to let other people have input in its direction. Whether you are confident in your work, or a bit unsure, giving other people a chance to critique it can provide them with an opportunity to tell you what you don’t want to hear, or what you’ve been avoiding admitting. These are all completely normal things to think, and it’s a human thing to worry about what people think of you and your work.
The most important thing to remember is that when people are providing their thoughts on your work, it isn’t a personal attack on you. Just because a colour might be slightly wrong, or you might need to tighten your kerning on some numbers; that doesn’t mean that you are a terrible designer or a bad person. Yes it’s your work, but it’s a work in progress, and negative feedback on your work doesn’t mean negative feedback about you. You might have things to change in your design, but chances are, the person giving you feedback isn’t perfect either and will have to adapt theirs too!
The first step in critique is actually letting somebody see your work. When it’s a group sharing session, put your work on the table for people to look at. If it’s a one on one discussion with a tutor, show them what you’ve got so far. Once you’ve done this, you’re already stepping out and being open, so well done! Step one achieved already - how easy was that?!
Once you’ve passed the first step, now it’s time to listen. It can also be helpful to take notes on people’s feedback so that you can refer back to it later when you actually go to make changes and develop the design. If you have to leave your work on the table in a group critique for people to walk around and see, leave a piece of paper saying something like ‘please leave your feedback!’ so that people can reflect on your work and you can come back later to see what their first impressions were. This can be a great exercise because if you’re not there to explain your work and the process you’re going through, people will only be able to provide their first impressions of what your work is conveying to them at the time. If these impressions are what you’re aiming for then great! If not, then you have some direction for where to go from there.
This sense of direction is so important in your design process, because if you don’t know where to go next then you will never move forward. Critique is a great tool for providing direction because you can receive feedback from multiple peers + tutors and use this to decide what needs changing and what can be pushed even further. It’s much better to go through this critique exercise multiple times during the creative process, than wait until you get your grades back to find out what you could have changed or developed to make it even better.
There are so many different people around you at university with different skill-sets and expertise that can help you gain this direction too. An illustrator might give you advice on your drawing while a type enthusiast can help you with your kerning, and an advertising student can point you in the right direction with the conceptual message. Take advantage of all the diversity and knowledge around you to get different perspectives about your work and take it to the best place it can go!
A small thing to note is that there can be too much feedback and sometimes it’s not all valid. There might be ideas thrown at you that aren’t actually possible, or don’t make sense. Someone might have totally misunderstood something and be pointing you in the wrong direction. These things happen which is why it’s good to get another opinion and also stick to your gut. If someone is telling you to illustrate an intricate scene but you have no drawing skills whatsoever, then maybe think of another way to achieve the design that works for you. It is your work in the end, and above the countless voices who might be giving you advice, whether good or bad, you should listen to yourself, and maybe a tutor or two!
Now you’ve had someone provide feedback for your work, it’s your turn to critique theirs. Don’t be scared, just be honest. If something isn’t working, it’s best to tell the person now than to ignore it and let them continue on in the wrong direction. The way in which you convey this feedback however is super important!
Think about the way that you would want somebody to give you feedback. Would you just want them to tell you that a part or all of it is terrible and then walk away? Would you want to receive nothing at all and be left feeling lost? I definitely wouldn’t so I’m assuming you wouldn’t too! It’s important to identify the specific issues and then provide some options for solutions. For example, if somebody is using yellow when their whole topic is about death, first of all, ask why. They might have a totally legitimate reason for using yellow and trying to understand their thought process will not only help them solidify their thoughts and be able to clearly convey them, but it will also stop you from jumping to conclusions that something is weird or wrong. If they aren’t sure why they’re using yellow or have no reason at all, then you can identify the issue by explaining what the use of yellow is conveying to you. Are you confused about the use of yellow? Does it make you think or sunshine or emojis? Explain all of this to them, and then provide a solution. Ask if they’ve done any research into colours associated with death, because this could help them, or if you know any, you could suggest those and how they will help the design. Don’t just say ‘use black or red!’ - explain why black or red would work better and how they could positively impact the design.
The main thing about providing feedback is being productive. It needs to be constructive criticism that will help the designer make some decisions and plan a way forward. If you don’t have a solution then just explain that you aren’t sure what the solution could be, and point them in the direction of a tutor or somebody that you know will have some helpful thoughts. In the end, just think about what would be constructive for you or how you would like to receive help, and try to provide that for others.
I hope that this advice is helpful! I really think that critique is important and can also be fun to be a part of. Being able to bounce ideas off other people and help others achieve excellence is such a privilege and something you should take advantage of when you can! I look forward to hearing how your next critique session goes and if you have any questions about the critique process, or want to share a critique session with me, I’m here to help!
Much love, Hollie! :D