Taking Criticism in Web Design

I was a web designer for the majority of my professional career. I’ve been around web designers for over twelve years. One of the hardest lessons for them to learn is not taking critiques and criticism personally.

When you pour your creativity, heart and soul into something, it’s perfectly reasonable to have an intense pride of ownership. It’s natural — and a good thing — to care deeply about your work.

But when a designer is commissioned to create a web site or application, it’s imperative to separate the art from the artist. The designer isn’t making something for himself or herself – it’s for a client, and ultimately, for an end user. What the designer thinks is cool or cutting edge is -a- factor, but not the only factor.

Design is more than just pretty pictures — it has to be effective, clear, functional and accessible. Light gray text on dark gray backgrounds might be an “in thing” these days, but is the content even readable (for those with or without vision disabilities)? The glitzy masthead with in your face colors and constant motion may seem daring and impactful, but is it ultimately more of a distraction? Cool icons in place of traditional words for the main site navigation may seem a fresh approach…or does it leave users guessing where they are able to go?

It’s one of the toughest lessons, but a necessary step in the evolution of really good designers. Realize that when people are pointing out problems or concerns, they aren’t having a go at you personally. They’re looking out for brand needs, marketing needs, and user needs — hopefully all three in harmony.

On my very first design project, I remember pouring everything into the first of three comps. I spent a little less, but still a lot of effort on design two. Design three, I just threw together because they had asked for three, but I had forgotten that detail until the last minute.

Sure enough, they much preferred the third design. It stung a little. I put everything into the other two — what do you mean, you don’t want them?

Little by little, the sting of rejection or criticism lessened, until I finally reached a happy place where I could take any manner of critique, even scathing, and not get upset.

Again, it’s not really “your” design — it’s a vehicle for a business to raise awareness, convey information, sell a product….whatever it is they do. Moreover, it’s a gateway for customers to get what they need, and get it as quickly as possible. Those customers have varying degrees of technical acumen, and may even have disabilities ranging from blindness to motor skill limitations. These are the people using the website, not just the designer.

4 thoughts on “Taking Criticism in Web Design

  1. Karen

    Good points. My first thought – if people follow the W3C/WAI for reporting an inaccessible website to the owner, they can attach this post to emphasize what is being criticized – the site, not the person. 🙂 (Otherwise, yes, I know what it’s like to have one’s “baby” criticized!)

  2. Gail

    I usually say “It’s design, not Art.” Like you said, what you are creating is a “vehicle for a business” to achieve and objective. To be good, you have to invest yourself and take pride in your finished product that’s certain. That said, the best products result from collaborating with a designer who is detached enough to listen to ideas and criticism without trying to formulate a rebuttal.

    Many times I’ve had developers give me ideas that greatly improve one of my designs or show me a better way that I hadn’t thought of.

  3. Steve Post author

    Hello dani,
    Sorry for the delayed response on this.

    Thanks for the catch. I hadn’t realized the cognitive disability pitfalls that fully-justified text can cause until you pointed it out and now I’ve read about it in a few places.

    It’s a case where whatever minor aesthetic value justified text has is hardly worth it. So I just removed it.

    Thanks again.

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