Friday, May 09, 2014

3 Ways to Handle Harsh Criticism as a Designer

Some people think the best way to handle criticism as a designer is to develop a thick skin. I'm not sure I agree with that. It's difficult when you care about what you are doing.

Good designers put great thought into what they produce. But that's not all. They put their hearts into it too.

It's one thing to disappoint a client or your boss. It's quite another to be criticized harshly. It can be degrading, or at least discouraging — especially if it's unfair or very inaccurate.

On one level, having a sense of perspective helps a lot. Let's say that 98% of your clients and co-workers love your work. That's pretty good. Just because that 2% hate your work, and hate you, doesn't mean you have to believe them. Yet, sometimes it still hurts anyway.

What can you do?

Here's what helps me get pass the hurt. I hope this helps you too:
  1. I mentioned perspective. That's a good starting point. I try to make sure I have a sober evaluation of myself. Perhaps within that unfair criticism is a truth I need to listen to. There's a skill I need to acquire. Maybe I didn't understand what the client was really communicating. Perhaps I failed to set clear expectations in the beginning, so that the client wouldn't be disappointed later.

    That doesn't mean I ignore the unfair criticism. For instance, I don't know how many times I've been criticized over things that were not under my control. But, it happens. In fact, there was a time I had been hired to work in an office. But they didn't provide me with the proper software, and still expected me to complete a project within a few days of starting work. I spent most of my time trying to find a way to work, since my boss wanted me to figure it out on my own. To say the least, she was underwhelmed with my work. The criticism still hurt, but I could see it wasn't about my skills.

  2. Another way I deal with hurt is to have something bigger than myself to occupy my life. I may fail pleasing someone over a design project. But in a hundred years, no one will even care. However, if I fail as a father or husband, it will have ramifications for generations. And when it comes to my work, I work for God, who knows my heart. I try to do work that pleases Him, which means I use the gifts He's given me to the best of my ability. And to do so with integrity. If I've done that, what is a little criticism?

  3. And last, I need to actively choose what I do. Hurt only hurts when I spend time dwelling on it. I need to fix what I can fix. Leave behind what I can't do anything about. Then do something that I enjoy. This means choosing to solve the problem by dealing with the real issue. Then go do something that brings me pleasure like drawing, prayer, visiting a bookstore or library, or being with friends or other designers who understand me.
Remember, harsh criticism can happen to the best of us. Keep it in perspective. You're worth more than what you do.

Photo courtesy imagerymajestic of

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