Have you ever been asked to critique a fellow designer’s project that needs more than a little bit of work?
You don’t want to come off as snooty or rude and you certainly don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you do need to make it clear that there are several improvements that could be made.
And while your mind automatically wants to mess around with it on your own, it’s not your project, so what you’re really looking to offer is general tips rather than a step-by-step instructional guide.
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So here are a few tips on how to give constructive criticism without being a jerk:
Offer praise first
Find something praiseworthy about the project. It can be their attention to detail on their illustration, the layout of the text, or their font choices (or something else entirely).
When the compliment comes after the critique, it sounds less sincere. (Imagine if someone walked up to you and said, “Ugh. That jacket is horrid. But nice shoes.”)
Furthermore, starting the conversation on a positive note softens the blow of the improvements they need to make.
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Leave your opinion out of it
Truly, it doesn’t matter if you think it sucks. What’s important is whether it satisfies the client’s goals. Frame your suggestions based on how to improve their work, not what you think of it right now.
“Can you choose a different color? That one is awful.”
“Is there a particular reason you chose that color? Think about who the audience is and what colors they will respond best to.”
Your critique should never be a step-by-step guide on how you would improve the project. Rather, teach your fellow designer how to think critically about their own project.
- Ask them questions about why they made the choices they did on the elements that need work.
- Remind them of design principles they may be overlooking.
- Suggest collaboration with others on skills (such as copywriting or photography) that are difficult to master quickly.
Example: “Think about hierarchy. Right now there are several elements competing for attention. Which one makes the most sense to be the focus, and which ones should be sub-elements?”
Be honest but gentle. Choose your words carefully. Use humor if you can to soften your comments.
It takes guts to ask another designer where you’re lacking on a project, and one day you just might be on the receiving end.
You never know; you might find a great peer!
Tip: Especially on critiques for newer designers, share links to great designers and projects so they can see what level their design needs to be at to be considered professional work.
Do you have any great tips on giving constructive criticism? Share them in the comments on this post!
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