Everybody, no matter what line of work you’re in, has to face feedback. As a designer, though, this can be particularly tough. Creative work is so subjective and personal, any negative comments can feel like a judgement on you as an individual.
However, it’s important to remember that criticism is an opportunity for you to improve. Your clients chose you for a reason – you just need to find way for your ideas to work together with theirs.
Become a pro at making a positive out of negative feedback with our handy tips…
1. Take a Minute
Your first response to criticism is likely to be defensive and, unfortunately, that isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to grab a hold of that knee-jerk reaction when you feel it coming on and you need to restrain it.
Getting annoyed will only lose you clients. Take a step away if possible, breathe, and wait until you can think rationally again.
2. Find the Lesson
Within (nearly) every criticism, there is an element of truth that you need to pay attention to. Finding the teachable point allows you to make the appropriate changes and learn so that you don’t receive this comment again.
It can help to write out two lists; one to identify what they got wrong in their feedback (allowing you to vent a little if you feel attacked), and another to identify what they got right. Take a proper look at that second list and find what you need to change to address these comments.
3. Understand Where They’re Coming From
Remember, it might be your work but it’s not for you, it’s for your clients. They are the ones who know exactly what message needs to be communicated and they need to ensure that your design does that.
However harshly they word it, understand that they’re coming from a place of good intentions. They just want to ensure that the final product is something they, or their superiors, are completely happy with.
4. Recognise Helpful vs Unhelpful Comments
Every designer has received unhelpful comments at some point or other. You know the type; “I don’t like that font” or “That image isn’t right”. They’re too vague and subjective.
Helpful comments will be specific, actionable and objective. You should come away with a clear plan on how to amend the design to your client’s specifications. If the feedback you’re getting isn’t specific, actionable and objective, you need to lead your clients in that direction. See step 5.
5. Gain Some Clarity
Ask questions to better understand what exactly they don’t like about your work. You have to be careful here because you don’t want to seem like you’re denying their opinion. You’re not trying to catch them out or prove that your way was right all along. You’re just investigating the problem.
Keep your voice calm and gently ask for specific examples of where our design does not match their criteria. Follow up by asking what they believe would be a better direction to go in. Obviously, they are not designers so be ready to interpret their comments and repeat back their suggestions for confirmation.
6. Thank Them
We know. It’s hard to say thank you when someone has just criticised your work but it’s so important! Thanking your critics shows that you are willing to improve. It might even make them like you more because you’re proving that you are open to suggestions and can work flexibly.
Thanking your critics doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them. You simply need to acknowledge their comments and appreciate that they’re trying to help.
7. Learn for the Future
Negative feedback is one of the easiest ways to identify your blind spots. Where are you weakest? What technique do you need a bit more practice on?
Use these comments to improve, not just the immediate job at hand, but your whole design skillset. The more techniques you can master, the wider your offering becomes. You can also ensure that each client’s portfolio has a unique feel to it by combining your different skills.
8. Know When to Defend Yourself
Finally, as important as it is to know how to listen to criticism, it’s also important to know when that criticism is wrong. You are the expert after all and the decisions you make are made for a reason. If a client can’t justify their objections, you are allowed to calmly communicate your reasoning to them and bring them around.
Now, you can go back to work knowing that the next time you get a negative comment, you can get past it. Are you part of a design agency? You can find more tips in our free eBook on improving agency-client relationships.