6 tips for getting more from creative criticism

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Great design is (rarely) created in isolation. Like it or not, taking criticism from others is a big part of a designer's life – whether it's coming from your boss, your clients, or your peers. However, with the right attitude, this feedback can help you hone your craft and improve your work, and your design portfolio. Here are some top tips for using criticism as fuel for your creative process.

01. Get opinions early

Us creatives can be pretty delicate when it comes to our work and ideas. If we're honest with ourselves, most of the time when we let others in on our latest pet project we're hoping to be showered with praise, dubbed a 'genius' and carried off into creative superstardom on a wave of positivity.

This need for positive reinforcement can all too often cause us to lock ourselves away in our studios, polishing and polishing our ideas until we feel ready to unleash them onto the world.

This tendency can, however, set us up for a fall. If you've spent weeks polishing an idea in secret, you're in for shock if someone you respect isn't as impressed by the idea as you are when you finally stump for the big reveal.

By actively seeking an outside perspective soon after ideas emerge – casting our 'darlings' into the cold light of day early on – we can save ourselves a lot of time and pain later, and this can help soften the blow when we realise we've been polishing a turd.

As much as we might, deep down, want to impress with our ideas, we should remember we can actually develop our thinking rapidly and radically with a few simple conversations.

02. Listen hard

It's easy to go into defensive mode when we open up our ideas to the scrutiny of others. When feedback starts flying at you, there's a natural creative reaction to put your mind into overdrive with rebuttals that will keep the concept alive.

But by letting your mind think up a response, you're not really allowing it to listen. There's little use in asking for input, if you're not going to take it in. Instead of priming yourself for debate, really listen to what is being said without thinking about what that means for you or the idea – you can mull that over later.

03. Remember it's not personal

Just because someone doesn't like your idea, doesn't make you a failure. In fact, most successful innovators came up with a lot of 'wrong' ideas before they hit on the game-changer.

The trick is to not to get too down about negative feedback, and rather use it as a catalyst to push yourself and your ideas further.

04. Don't take an opinion as gospel

An opinion on your work is just that: an opinion. While you should be as open as possible to the feedback you're getting, you don't have to take it as the truth when it comes to developing your work later.

It's helpful to take what you hear with a creative pinch of salt. See the input as research rather than an instruction. On reflection, you'll likely find some of the feedback useful and some that takes you in a direction you don't want to go in. This is your work: listen hard to the feedback and decide what makes sense to you.

05. Adjust and repeat

The real power of actively seeking feedback is that it gives you a chance to reflect and course-correct before it gets too late. Each phase of listening to others should be followed by a phase of reflection and recalibration. This is your opportunity to push your ideas further.

When you've incorporated the valuable feedback, there's only one thing left to do. Go and get more feedback, and repeat the whole process again!

These tips were originally part of a Modual student workshop run by Fred Deakin.

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Fred runs Fred & Company, a studio specialising in interactive and educational projects. He is also Professor of Interactive Digital Arts at the University of the Arts London.