Criticism contains the nuggets of gold that success is made of. Yet, when these gifts are bestowed upon us we tend to react a little like ungrateful children inside. Somehow criticism gains an emotional charge when we receive it, be it a critique or review.
As graphic designers by default everything we do is criticized by virtually any one. Learning how to deal with it has been the biggest challenge we face, but it’s a skill you can learn too.
It’s important for you to understand just how much a designer is criticized so you have an idea of how uniquely positioned we are in the discussion. What we do is visual and as far as our creations can spread in print or online the audience with criticism grows exponentially. Anyone who can see has an opinion and two cents to give.
Even before launch, teams we work with, friends, family, and strangers on the street all might have a say. This is something we must accept and embrace because as I said, these are the nuggets.
So let’s skip over the whole, “Don’t take it personally”, speech because guess what, you will, we do. If you’ve just made a new dish, opened a new restaurant, or wrote a new blog the criticism will roll in. It’s out there in the wild for people to consume in one form or another. You created it for others to consume.
Opinions and criticism can come from many different sources and people. Let’s talk about those that you work with and those that are close to you and your work in some way. I think it is within reason to say that these people have your best interests at heart. Let’s consider critiques from them as emotionally neutral.
Just think about the last time you gave someone advice. It was not because you hate them and wanted to hurt them, you objectively wanted to help them. If anything, the advice was emotionally positive to spare their feelings. The interactions are certainly not negative.
When we create we feel we are putting a part of ourselves into what is created. It is through us that this creation came to be. It will always be a part of you like a child is to a parent. When an opinion is formed of your creations it’s natural to feel it also being applied to you, personally.
It’s inescapable, really.
So don’t feel helpless to the whims of opinionated people because you take things personally. We all do it. The goal is to shorten the time of emotional, personal reaction to an objective understanding of what is being said.
The only way I know how to do that is to assume that everything I read or hear is only being said to help me. Big surprise though, I am not always great at that either. I’m always learning and adjusting to make the most out of these gifts. Knowing that criticism is only given to help me makes a big difference.
The most difficult critiques are from those that are not in your field or lack expertise. Those you look up to, mentors, and colleagues in the same industry always have criticism that is easier to swallow. We trust them and their opinions. Outsiders, well, that can be much more difficult.
Just look at Yelp reviews. Gulp. Those can be really tough to swallow for a new restaurant business.
Eaters are not chefs or restaurateurs. But they are customers.
So what do you do? You at first take a step back, take a breath, let the emotional response happen and realize this is an opportunity for greater success. Start asking yourself some questions about where this criticism is coming from.
First of all, is this person in your target market? You might choose to dismiss their opinion because they are outside of your scope. You could also try to understand how you attracted this person outside your target and if there are others. There might be a valuable nugget regarding your marketing to be discovered.
If they are in your target market, that’s great news. You got them in the door. Now you can decipher their message.
They will have little to no idea how you arrived at your creation and the thought behind it. Sometimes their criticism is surface level. They might say their dish was too salty. I wouldn’t say the first thing to do is use less salt. It could be they were simply recommended appies that made the main seem salty.
There are so many reasons for the conclusion they arrived at. As an expert you need to figure out which nugget it stems comes from.
It always stems from something and fair enough, sometimes it’s partly a bad day. That’s uncontrollable. It is still worth digging into to see if there is a nugget to found. Maybe a bad day can be salvaged with the right music or ambience?
I can’t say exactly what nugget you will uncover, just that they are there to be found. When we stay stuck in the emotional reaction to criticism we cut ourselves off from opportunities.
So go ahead, take it personally, and then stop to grow and build something truly great from it.