Question: Help! My friend and I are both designers but some of his work isn’t very strong and I can see places he could improve. How do I give him honest feedback without hurting his feelings? – Alex, 19
Answer: Criticism is a difficult task for a bleeding heart. Nobody wants to hurt their friends’ feelings, but it’s precisely this caring nature that makes us want to improve their life and broach the unavoidable. Does one speak up if a friend chooses not to wear deodorant because they like the smell of their own BO? Do we raise our concerns for a close acquaintance who drinks (and seemingly enjoys) Starbucks coffee? It’s this Nickleback Complex* that burdens all great friendships.
I’m really pleased to inform you, Alex, that this is not your situation. Design is not personal hygiene. It’s not some art form that transcends discussion and expresses our inner soul. Design is a job and it needs to work. That’s why we critique – to make the work better. This also means that we should expect to make mistakes when we design and look for mistakes when we give feedback. Because if we’re not looking for mistakes, we aren’t working hard enough to make it better, or to make it valuable at all. Saatchi & Saatchi’s late creative director Paul Arden said it best: “The person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.”
So, one of you is being overly precious here. Either your friend is too sensitive and insecure about his design skills, or you’re afraid of telling the truth. The best way to approach it is to leave the ego at the door – it doesn’t have to be personal. Ask them if they’d like some feedback and approach the design as objectively as possible. Luckily for you, your friends at Sex, Drugs & Helvetica have provided a few handy tips on how to critique your comrade in arms.
*The Nickleback Complex is when you have to live your life knowing that your friend likes Nickelback.
Dizzee Askall will be delivering a weekly lowdown on your design-related dilemmas. If you’re in need of advice or answers, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org