Criticism and non Designers

“When we are having a critique, we are not discussing you as a person, we are discussing your work.”

This is the tagline of any critique during my four years of design at Carnegie Mellon. Classmates and professors are not criticizing you as a person, they are not criticizing your beliefs or your personality, they are not discussing your ability as a designer, not in that conversation at least. They are discussing the design currently on the wall. After four years of this as well as the years of art education before university, I have grown fond of the critique environment where nothing is out of line and all comments are directed towards the work, not myself.

Now in the real world, and the corporate world at that, I need to relearn this method. Over the last week, I rendered a variety of sketches for a range of projects I am involved with. Sharing my sketches I was asked more than once if the critisicm is too harsh, or if I am OK with the judgement being passed. To me, the judgement being passed and the criticism offered was minimal and lighthearted to say the least. There was good criticism and bad but I saw it as constructive criticism about the work, not about myself. I thrive on it to make the work better. Otherwise, my personal standards would drop and my quality of work would decrease.

Then I received renderings from other individuals in the organization who lack a design background. Reading their comments and reviewing their renderings, I understood their motivations for various elements within the interface but knew the overall layout did not work and the system as a whole was flawed. I know though that bedside manner is a weak spot of mine. And I know that many people take criticism of their work as a personal attack. So it was carefully that I had to redraft my comments to show how all of the concerns they listed, and more importantly the ones they did not list are addressed in the current design.

It is an interesting balance between the design world and the rest of the business community. We thrive off of criticism to push us further and create better products. The majority of people feel attacked in the same setting. I know this is one thing I will just have to get used to, but it is interesting how it has affected my work and I look forward to seeing how my work model will change as I have to teach people it is OK to tear my work down… as long as it is my work and not me… and as long as it is constructive and not spiteful. Thin lines that take a very careful skillset not to cross.

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