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On designers critiquing designers

Design blogs often direct a lot of negativity toward projects of different kinds — especially within comment threads (I’ve been responsible for my fair share). So, now and again I like to remind myself that it’s almost impossible to give a fully balanced critique of another designer’s work without knowing a few important things:

Balancing a rock and a feather

  1. The details of the design brief
  2. The relationship between the client and the designer
  3. The relationship between those on the client committee
  4. The lengths the designer went to when pitching the preferred option

The next time a studio completes a design project for a high profile client, my first thought will be one of congratulations for achieving consensus on a particular outcome, because getting the decision makers to agree is often a designer’s most difficult task.

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24 comments about “On designers critiquing designers”

  1. It’s a good point, David, very often a client can completely change a design (for better or worse) from the designer’s original vision. The designer then has to take on board the client’s suggestions and do the best (s)he can. If you’ve got a happy client, you’ve succeeded in many ways.

  2. Wouldn’t the designer’s thought process and research also be considered a few important things before giving a critique on their work?

    I do agree that it’s difficult to get a client to agree with a particular design or concept in some cases. I’m beginning to realize that difficulty more with each time a client may ask for a revision or change to a design that further strays away from the original concept into something else that may be unpractical.

    When I see other designers work, I remind myself not to make judgment right off the bat based on execution alone, I always look for the designers thought process along with the clients requirements, feedback, and brief that altogether lead up to the final executed design. That way, I can see and understand the struggle/steps that was taken from start to finish from both sides of the project.

    Good points on the relationship however. I didn’t really think much about that before. I should be mindful of that.

    As always David, thanks for teaching me something new. I appreciate it!

    -Jamie Wayne

  3. I get bored of designers leaping to slate work they know bugger all about. I get why they do it, I just wish they wouldn’t, it shows how far we have to go in terms of professionalising our industry. I can’t imagine dozens of architects queuing up to lob insults at the latest high profile building.

    Being absolutely certain about anything based on a couple of images and a few snippets of information is a sure sign that you don’t challenge your own assumptions as much as you probably should.

    But while I’m here, did you see the new logo for ebay/hibu/ee/avis/etc? I mean, really! ;)

  4. I do agree that there can be a lot of negativity towards critiquing a designers work. I’ll definitely keep these questions in mind when I’m looking at completed projects from now on.

  5. As a student/aspiring designer, I look at submitted works and, in the absence of information about the brief or requirements of the job, try to extrapolate from what I know about the business how the new mark solves the particular problems the designer was hired to solve.

    If the new identity is being implemented, obviously it met the criteria of the client, which is all that really matters. We can banter all we want about color choices or typography, but as a community, I think its important to celebrate the successes of our fellow designers despite what you or I or anyone else would have done differently.

  6. I think these are important items to remember because it is so easy to criticize another person’s work. We must remember all of the factors (and people) that go into a design project, that art is subjective, and that a design often has many purposes (which we may not know of). I also believe that we should make sure that the Perfect is not the enemy of the Good.

  7. I have definitely been one to critique a design that I really have little or next to no knowledge about the process… It is really a black hole, but also human nature to provide negative and positive feedback with only so much information given. If I have a negative thought on someones design I also like to follow with positive opinions. No one has the all seeing eye in this industry, there isn’t such a thing in my opinion. I will take those 4 suggestions into consideration more though. Great thoughts David. :)

  8. They would, Jamie. Brett’s right, too, that no one knows everything, but it’s still important to step back from the details and consider the bigger picture. Even if we don’t know what the bigger picture contains, if we remember it’s there we’re much less likely to be unjustifiably harsh.

    Thanks for reading, folks.

  9. Great points David although I do think some of the responsibility lies with the design agencies. If they want to be fairly judged then providing a decent level of process insight and context is essential. Moving Brands is really the only one I’ve seen that really embraces such an open approach albeit slightly over-enthusiastically on occasion. (People pointing at boards with lots of Post-its).

  10. The 4 golden insights one must have.
    So true, thanks for reminding us of that.

  11. I was thinking about this earlier today, especially in regards to the recent EE logo.

    I believe it’s important for there to be a culture of criticism and discussion within the design community; but at the same time there’s a gulf of difference between considered criticism and knee-jerk slating.

  12. Very wise Mr Airey. Unless they have used comic sans, then we can just tell them off.

  13. I’ve only very recently decided to stop doing it. I asked myself why I was doing it? To make myself feel good? It usually has the opposite effect, on myself and the reader. To make my self look good? Ditto. To offer helpful critique so said designer could improve things? How arrogant would that be?

    So I’ve decided I really don’t see the point in saying anything unless it’s a piece of work I really like. It’ll save me, and anyone who reads my comments, time and stress.

  14. I do agree with David’s conclusive point, and that one should keep that in mind. But I would agree with Richard above that If agenceis want to be fairly judged then providing a decent level of process insight and context is essential. A lot of designers at agencies don’t seem to know how to talk about the work anymore either because of being out of practice or not being used to it. Moving Brands is a fantastic example and the case studies posted by SomeOne, even if they’re outcomes aren’t always to my taste, I can see the thinking and craft. I have found these blogs can easily become mindless backslapping, and a lot of people for a variety of reasons don’t really say what they think – there is difference between what I would call fair negative feedback and “slating”, and in my view there isn’t enough actual critiquing.

  15. I would also context and application is important – and its not always easy to show that – how many of us though the London 2012 logo was horrid when it was first revealed to the public – but how many of us changed our minds when seeing it so coherently applied during the games. I can’t say I love the logo on its own but I do now appreciate overall identity application having seene it in its full solution. I think the EE logo may even be following the same trajectory…

  16. I for one do not critique or even review agencies work. I work for an agency and I have to deal on a daily basis with large clientele changing and chopping the project into mash. There is too much politics, money and other drivers which will always outweigh your “awesome vision and design”.

    I don’t care what you say, how well you think you might be able to drive your vision and insight into a client, a lot of the time it will not go your way in this enviroment. Fact.

    such is corporate design.

    I learnt to let go and instead appreciate good folks work like David and other individuals who are the lucky and rare ones that often do have the opportunity to drive their original vision past the finish line.

  17. I’m completely cool with designers critiquing without context. It’s their own time that they are wasting, and their naive comments only portray the truth of their lack of experience, lack of humility and lack of taste.

    It is better to have these designers spend their time supporting their own egos, lost among the plethora of similar blog comments, whilst better designers go about the job of designing. There is justice in this.

    Therefore I suggest that design blogs adopt 2 new features:

    1. Always have a photo of the designer accompanying the work, so that hate can be properly directed.

    2. A simple tool palette so that designs can be ‘fixed’.

    This tool palette should have a spray can and marker so that the work can be ‘tagged’ or otherwise desecrated in a hip hop style.

    The tool palette should have a rubber stamp of the Apple logo for work that is ‘liked’.

  18. Hi David,

    Good points. I would also add that we should consider cultural variables, and end users.

    I feel that we designers do not have the right to offer critiques unless we are asked of it, by the designer of the material. Once invited, we can choose to rip apart or ask the right questions to provide objective, constructive opinions.

  19. I’ve been on both sides of the design process, so if and when I critique an identity, I try to be balanced and point out where the client may have missed a trick, not just comment on what the designer produced.

    As Richard Baird quite rightly pointed out, though, this is difficult if the designer/agency doesn’t provide enough context and insight.

  20. I tend to not ask for critiques much, specially if it is for a client. For personal projects I may. I only ask for a critique from a selective number of handpicked designers that I network with. Why? Because I know their work, their style and personality and my working relationship with them. Their opinion may impact my choice of design and altering my work if needed, their opinion to me is much more valuable than having anyone from the internet criticizing my work.

  21. Exactly! I’ve bought books on design hoping to learn about how other designers have tackled things and all they really do is showcase the work as if it were just something to be admired. Your book, Logo Design Love, though, did not disappoint.

  22. Love this post David, whole-heartedly agree.

  23. Encourage each other. If someone genuinely puts their best efforts out there for critique, don’t cut them down. Be constructive or click off the page.

  24. For one reason or another I seemed to have missed Miles’ suggestions. I’ll get those installed on Logo Design Love asap.

Anything to add?

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