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I'm Kristi. I'm the artist behind At the Dot Design.
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Have you ever asked a peer for a design critique and been told something like this?
“It’s great! So beautiful, I love it!”
Is that nice to hear? Of course! Who doesn’t want to be told that their work is lovely, but sometimes what you really need to help you move forward is a little constructive criticism. Getting valuable feedback from our peers can help elevate our work and the work of the person giving the critique. All boats rise as they say when we can create a collaborative community of constructive criticism.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or how to give constructive feedback so I thought I’d share some of my secrets to providing kind and helpful critiques. And in case you haven’t already seen the 2019 smash Wine Country, here’s a little ditty about feedback that will surely get stuck in your head and help you loosen up before we get started.
Before setting out on a design critique it’s important to cultivate an environment where peers feel supported, valued, and respected. After all, a critique isn’t meant to tear down anyone’s work, we want to celebrate successes, and unique perspectives, and share a genuine appreciation for their skills. The positive atmosphere you build will also set the stage for constructive criticism to be received with an open mind.
So how do we do this? When I approach a critique session the first thing I do is describe what I see and tell the artist what I like about the work. I take my time and describe the line or brushwork, the color palette used, the textures I see, or other details I want to comment on. I’ve often been surprised by listening to what other people see when they look at my work and have found this part of the critique process to be incredibly helpful and insightful. There’s nothing like listening to someone describe your work with a pair of fresh eyes.
This part of the critique helps the artist feel seen, valued, and supported in their work. It also helps establish the groundwork for open and honest communication, which will be needed for the next step in the process.
Throughout the critique process, you want to make sure you balance praise and constructive feedback. Both parts are critical to helping any artist move forward and improve their work.
So how can you give constructive suggestions in a kind and productive way? I like to do this by using the same observation method I described for giving positive feedback. I describe what I see and offer suggestions or possible ways to make changes to the work. For example, if my eye gets stuck in a certain area of a pattern I let the artist know and offer a few suggestions that could help keep my eye moving around the work. Perhaps they make the motif smaller, try out changing a traditional repeat block to a half-drop repeat block, or even change a color. As the person giving the critique you don’t need to solve or fix anything, instead offer a variety of ideas and suggestions that the artist can use or not, that’s up to them.
As you begin to offer constructive suggestions remember to be supportive, kind, and respectful. I also like to give a mix of positive and constructive feedback that way there is a nice balance to the design critique.
Throughout the entire critique process, it’s important to use clear and specific language. Doing so will help ensure that your feedback is actionable and easy to implement.
Avoid using phrases like, “I don’t like it,” “I like it,” or “it needs work.” These are very vague statements that won’t really help the artist. Instead, describe what you like or don’t like about the work.
For example, instead of saying “The color palette is a bit off” you could say “There isn’t enough contrast between the blue in your background and the green in your leaves, they are getting a bit lost.” Pinpointing the exact area of the design where you think a revision can be made will be much more helpful than a general statement and can help avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
Giving and receiving design critiques allows artists to share their experiences and resources and can create opportunities for learning and development. Critiques can inspire our peers to experiment with new techniques, explore different elements of design, and step out of their comfort zones. Even if you feel you don’t have any constructive suggestions to offer, simply describing what you see and what you like about the work is helpful. It signals to the artist what areas of the design are successful and can help them as they continue making new work. When constructive suggestions are provided be sure to be clear and specific.