As professional designers, our role is to create—but, we don’t create alone. Our clients often come with abstract criteria in mind related to the goals for a project. They need a creative to visualize and actualize them.
That's where we come in. As designers, we breathe life into their ideas, finding a way to solidify a concept they envisioned but couldn't quite picture.
Creating is a collaborative effort. As the saying goes “No man [or woman] is an island entire of itself.” Both creator and client have to master the art of critique.
Critique, the dirty 8-letter word. People associate “critique” with “criticism,” and depending on where it’s coming from, it can elicit something primal. Our natural reaction is fight or flight. We instinctually want to defend our initial approach. But as Harvey Deutschevndorf says in 5 Productive Ways To Respond To Criticism, to make the most of the criticism we receive, it’s important for us to wait out these strong emotions.
From a professional perspective, we can’t confuse critique for a derogatory criticism. The Art of the Critique is our most valuable tool, and it serves us:
Critique is vital to creativity. It helps us better understand our clients and colleagues and allows us to fine-tune our work to exceed expectations and do ideas justice.
In inbound marketing, feedback and testing give us vital insight to adjust course and achieve better results. Getting critiques from clients, co-workers, and users is an integral part of the process.
In the professional world, it’s very rare to hit the nail on the head the first time we dive in to a project. So in order to make the most of an initial design presentation, it’s important for everyone to approach the critique phase in an efficient and collaborative way.
In web and graphic design, we find that approaching critique in three main phases yields the best collaborative outcome: Be Objective, Encourage, and Aim to Build.
From the start of a project, the client and creative teams should agree on a creative brief. This sets the stage. The client established a set of goals, and design aims to achieve them.
Say we're working with a client to design a new website. The creative team will put together a few different options and walk through every element, explaining why certain colors, graphics, and styles were used.
Once the client has had the chance to review the different options, they should be prepared to offer honest feedback and ask any questions they may have.
Ultimately, our goal as designers is to use our technique, expertise, and insight to come up with a compelling user experience based on the client's goals. If the client wonders how a proposed design may accomplish those goals, they should feel free to ask.
If we didn't quite hit the nail on the head the first time, we want to hear it. Be specific. It encourages us to clarify the client's vision, think differently, and take chances. Without a critique, we may end up leaving a perfectly good idea on the table.
Both parties should leave a critique with a clearer vision and invigorated to get back to work to reach the goal with the best possible outcome.
A proper critique offers feedback to improve a project, not derail it. We're as invested as the client—we all want to achieve the best possible outcomes, and an effective critique is the first step to taking a great idea and making it even better.
Effective critiques don't just highlight the bad—they emphasize the good. That allows us to pick up the best pieces of a project and put them back together in a way that takes us—and the client—further.
It’s also important for each person involved to understand their role during the critiquing process.
Communication is the common thread that carries a project through to successful completion. With honest communication, we build the foundation for trust. With trust, we can communicate without obstacles that impede progress or honesty.
The goal of any creative relationship is to create leads, drive revenue, and nail down a "win" for the client. As designers, our ideas may be our babies, but sometimes our client is more interested in adopting a puppy—and that's okay.
We can't find the best possible outcome without mutual understanding, mutual trust, and mutual respect. You can trust us—we have decades of design experience under our belts, and we've seen hundreds of projects through to completion (and roaring success).
At the same time, we don't bite. We're open to any and all feedback, and we're happy to take any suggestion into consideration.
We work, we critique, we critique our critiques, we talk about it, and then we get results.
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