The more I learn about design, and the more experienced I become in the field, the frequency with which people ask for this sort of advice increases: Can you review my code? How can I improve the UX of this feature? How would we implement something like this in our design system? What about the copy? The icons? The typesetting?
Amidst this flurry of questions I’ve noticed that there’s an art to giving good feedback. And I am, well, let’s say that there’s an opportunity for improvement here.
This is the problem: whenever I see bad design during critiques I get genuinely, emotionally upset because I want to list out every problem that I’m seeing and tear it apart. I want to smash the design to bits. “The hierarchy is bad!” I want to shout. “The words don’t make any sense!” I want to yell. And with teeth clenched I try to think of a way to casually mention “How on earth is this design supposed to work at smaller screen sizes?”
I recognize that this makes me a jerk and it’s led to all sorts of uncomfortable situations with other designers. In one particularly uncomfortable session I got so angry that the whole team looked at me slack-jawed.
This feeling I get reminds me of university where I had a rather unhealthy relationship with my colleagues and my work. Back then I had never opened InDesign or Photoshop, let alone sit in a room with a bunch of talented designers before. So it was a massive shock to the system when I had to reveal my work alongside folks that were extraordinarily skilled at visual, UX and graphic design. And the contrast between our work during those critiques was striking; whilst theirs was funny and clever, beautifully bound and typeset like an old German Bible, my work was, well, there were many, many opportunities for improvement there.
I learned how to take the punches though. When someone said that my work was trash I learned how to use that embarrassment and shame as fuel for returning to the work with renewed focus. That’s certainly not healthy but during the time I believed that method of teaching people was the only one. Kindness and hugs never seemed to work. Encouragement didn’t seem effective either. Shame and guilt always seemed to do the trick though. And if you have no shame or guilt then I found it was simply impossible to become a good designer. You flunked out and people stopped talking to you.
And now when a designer asks for feedback in a group there is this mean streak of mine that lurches up again. And quite frankly I don’t know how to deal with it. This is the first time at work where I no longer feel like a junior designer stuck at the bottom of the barrel, watching much more experienced folks than me do much better work. I’m no longer a rookie here, but that’s certainly no excuse.
So right now I’m just left with a handful of questions: how do I become more patient with the team? How do I let them know that I’m there to help? How can I explain that this work doesn’t cut it, and that we should go back to the drawing board?
In other words, how do I become a great designer without becoming a giant asshole?