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How to Give Constructive Criticism for Graphic Design Services

Posted on August 08, 2014 | Posted by Brooke Randell

When hiring someone for their graphic design services you, of course, want to make sure that their design fits your company's brand and that the design looks professional and well composed. So, how do you handle it if you receive proofs that you're less than pleased with? By delivering positive constructive criticism instead of getting angry or disparaging their work, you'll be much more likely to express what you would like for your design and have a better working relationship with your graphic designer. 

How to give constructive criticism for graphic designHow we express our criticism can have a huge affect on the working relationship between us and our graphic designers.

Here are some things to remember when approaching a project critically:

1. Don't make it personal: You may be frustrated by the graphic designer you are working with, and that's perfectly understandable. Maybe you feel like their work doesn't at all reflect the instructions you originally gave them, or you feel like the way they've created the art they send you isn't professional enough. It's easy to allow this frustration to bubble over into personal attacks like "I can't believe how unprofessional you've been!" or "These are terrible, I thought you said you were a professional graphic designer!" Instead, focus on the specific items within the design you have issues with and bring them up in a calm and impersonal way. For example, "I feel like this graphic for our website doesn't really fit the image we want to promote for our company. I'd like to talk to you about some ideas for revisions to help it better fit our brand."

2. The Compliment Sandwich: This is a fairly common practice with anyone who's familiar with teaching or critiquing on a regular basis. The compliment sandwich looks like this:

a. Begin the conversation by mentioning something you like about the person's work: their design strengths, a particular element of the design, etc.

b. Next, segue into your critique of the design. Be specific and tactful in your criticism.

c. Finally, end on a positive note by giving them another compliment or mentioning how excited you are about the project.

I would use this method a lot as a writing tutor for college students to get them to feel comfortable enough to open up about their academic writing and to teach basic writing skills at the same time. When it comes to writing (or graphic design, or any creative work), the person's creations can feel very personal and people can feel insecure or offended if the thing they've worked so hard to create is criticized. Not that you need to coddle professional graphic designers, but it never hurts to balance your criticisms with compliments about what you do like about their work to keep your working relationship positive.

3. Location, Location, Location: In addition to the particular words you choose, where you choose to say them to your graphic designer can make a difference. Even if you are trying to remain level-headed and polite, if you criticize the graphic designer's work in front of others—particularly if the other people in the room are not part of the group working on or affected by the design—it can seem like you are calling the graphic designer out or trying to publicly shame him or her. Try to set up a meeting where you discuss design changes one on one or in small groups that have been assigned to work on the particular project in question.

4. Focus on future, not past, actions: Instead of dwelling on things you think the designer has done incorrectly or poorly, be specific about the actions you'd like to be taken to fix them. Not only will this feel like less of a personal attack to the graphic designer, but it will help productivity by giving the designer actionable projects to work on. It's all about growth instead of festering on what's already happened.

5. Use facts not feelings: Sure, when it comes down to it a lot of design has to do with personal preference and not rules or reason. But trying to give logical reasons for wanting changes to a design instead of stating "I just don't like it" will be a lot more helpful to your designer. For example, it would be more helpful to say "I was wondering if we could change the cartoon image of a dragon on the menu. We want all of our printed materials to help us look like an upscale, fine-dining experience for Asian cuisine. Is there a way to make it look more sophisticated and less casual?" than it would be to say "I hate the dragon you picked for the menu. Can you make it look less stupid?"

6. Make it a conversation: You don't want to hear excuses, but allowing the graphic designer to defend or explain the decisions he or she has made will make you seem more fair-minded and will make your critique more credible because it will be in direct response to their explanation. It's also more psychologically positive for the person who's work is being criticized if they feel like they have a chance to defend themselves, even if you are already set in your decision to make a change with the design.

7. Empathize: Treat others the way you think that they would like to be treated! It's as simple as that. Put yourself in their shoes, how would you want someone to approach you with criticism? Going into the conversation with an empathetic attitude will help you couch your language in a way that gets your points across without being offensive or unnecessarily rude.

Of course, taking constructive criticism well is just as much a skill as giving it is, and even if you are the grand emperor of tact it's possible that the graphic designer will get offended and defensive about your comments. Still, by following the tips above you'll at least know that there's no way you could have given criticism without offense and you'll know to go to a more professional graphic designer the next time you have a project.

How have you given constructive criticism in the past? What other advice would you add to this list? Leave you answers in the comments below!

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