How to be self critical with your Design Work?

You can look at this in another way, as one of my friends like to call it “Don’t Bull Sh*t yourself”, if a work is bad it is bad. That leads to and another oldie but goodie or as what most call it “You Cant Polish Sh*t”.
I think one of the interesting characteristics of good designers is that they have this internal filtering system that consistently allows them to do good work. They intuitively know which of their designs are good, as well as they know how to keep going if their work is not quite there. Not only that, their standards of their own deliverables are very high and can somehow consistently deliver designs that not only hit the mark but also surprise the viewers.
You might argue that to a certain extent good design is subjective, but often the acid test is the general consensus so get as much feedback as you can. However a design genius would bucks this trend as he often walks the lonely path, but honestly if you are one, you properly don’t have this problem anyway!
So how do you know know if you are still treading in the BS zone, so that you can then take the right steps to cross that line into designing success? Here are 8 tips to for you to consider:
1) You can’t explain the objective of your concept in 30 seconds or in a few sentences.
2) You find that you are changing your idea behind your design as a response to critique, as you struggle to justify it to your team.
3) You are still working on the same concept after 20 minutes, and can’t decide if its working or not.
4) You insist you can make your design work and it is really only about just rounding a few edges or working on proportions.
5) You don’t feel happy about your work but complain about the lack of time to do so due to many reasons.
6) You wonder when it is time to stop the designing part and do something else.
7) You stop designing the product or looking for the solution.
8) You let pride cloud your judgement, and continue to insists your design works even when everyone tells you otherwise. (Edit: This is in context of a designer working with other designers or in a design team.)
I always say, I rather designers shortlist their own work, than to get someone else to do it for them. In the end of the day, you will know when your design has hit the mark and justifying it will be easy. In the end, my answer to designers who always lament that they are not happy with their work is “why did you not take the effort to get it right?”

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9 Comments
  • Firewalker

    September 23, 2007 at 3:06 pm Reply

    I agree with point number 8 because it’s closely related to me. I’m too proud of my work which makes me resist other’s opinions.
    However, there is also another factor that makes me ‘proud’ and ‘resist’ others opinion. It’s because people surrounds me are not too interested with graphic design. They view most of my work to be ‘good’ or ‘so-so’. That’s why if there are any negative opinion, my mind always thought of something like this: “What do you know about graphic design?”
    This is what I’m trying to criticize from myself. One way to help me criticize this attitude of mine is buy displaying my gallery on the web and let everybody have their own opinion. I’m sure people with the same interest would have an objective opinion instead of ‘good’ or ‘so-so’.

  • Dennis Schipper

    September 23, 2007 at 8:24 pm Reply

    When i get a design to the point where its just a streamlined process to get the thing done i almost never like it. When i do like it it’s not long before i get this horrible feeling that there is something wrong with it.
    I have to disagree with #8. Sometimes (not always) you can trust a designer to know better than a salesman.

  • Heyuti

    September 24, 2007 at 1:31 pm Reply

    Hey i think point #5 and #8 is a bit of irony. Being unhappy with your own work to me can be a good sign of being self critical. When you are happy with your work, you will have gotten to point #8. When you are doing something radical, very often you find difficulties justisfying why you want to do it. A lot of people do not know what they want until they saw it themselves, so getting too much opinion can be very damaging. So at the end of the day it is up to the flair of the designer himself.
    I totally agree with point #2 though. I have came across designers who kept changing their ideas so as to counter your opinion, so much so they totally lost their focus.

  • drew kora

    September 24, 2007 at 7:28 pm Reply

    Seems to me that #8 depends on who “everyone” is. Trusted co-designers? Salesmen? CEOs? If it’s a fellow designer giving you specific input to improve the design, then it’s worth looking at even if you disagree. If it’s a CEO or salesman saying “I don’t like blue,” well that’s different…then I find myself analyzing the situation.
    Sometimes critiques from non-designers can be very valuable (as long as I don’t take them personally). Often times the CEOs, engineers, accountants, etc. have a specific goal for the design in mind. They may not dislike the actual design itself (in fact, many times they are indifferent to it because they simply are not creative people), they just don’t see that it can accomplish the sales, communication, function, or whatever it is they want it to do. At which point you have to figure out if their concerns have any merit.
    Of course, it can be tough to figure when non-designers are critiquing you based on valid concerns or personal tastes… because their language is the same: “I don’t like blue. Can we Make this bigger? It’s not eye catching.” They aren’t taught to critique and analyze design like us, so we must become skilled at drawing it out of them, asking the right questions to get to the bottom of the situation.

  • saikat

    September 26, 2007 at 2:02 pm Reply

    about #8: If a designer trust someone (in terms of design sense or other credibility) it’s easier to accept his/her feedback with a positive attitude….it the trust/respect is not in place….it becomes really difficult.
    @Drew Kora : Some time one can get incredible ideas from so called ‘non designers’, but interpreting it in the right way is tricky!

  • DT

    September 26, 2007 at 11:03 pm Reply

    Hi friends,
    I am so sorry for the very late reply as well, I had to make a rushed trip to Singapore to attend to a family emergency. I have now finally some time to discuss comments and perhaps blog.
    I am really happy to see that this discussion has had a life of its own. I really like the fact that readers engaging with each other and hopefully share ideas.
    @Firewalker: thanks for your comments, in reality giving and taking comments is a double edge sword. For one you need to see if that person has a bias to his comments. I must apologize as I wrote point 8 a little rushed and its meant to be in the context of a design studio environment or if you are bouncing your designs off other designers. Not getting feed back from non-designers. For sure non-designers can give good feedback, and designers must take such feedback with a pinch of salt but at the end of the day decide if action is required.
    @Dennis: I always like to remind myself at the end of the day “who is the designer?” The problem is not designers getting the answers they want, but designers not having an opinion.
    @Heyuti: Actually #5 is not what you think it is. In fact just like “pain” everyone’s threshold on “effort” is different. Most designers remain unhappy but do not actually take the required extra effort to make it work. My point here is for designers to really push themselves to get it right so that they ARE happy. That often means you will have to really dig deep.
    @Drew: Absolutely. You must always gage feedback give and have a list of questions to dig in and find the right answer.
    @saikat: Quite true, and thanks for your comments and for visiting.

  • Shane h

    October 5, 2007 at 1:20 am Reply

    It seems as if #8 is the largest problem with designers, and for good reason. Designers have a natural tendency to take pride in what they do. When something takes a long time to complete, we as designers become very attached with our work. This sincere affection we develop with our piece, causes or judgment to become clouded, disabling our ability to properly critique our own work.
    When you are unable to claim your own designs’ flaws, it is increasingly easier to reject other’s opinions as well. The trick to avoiding the Bull Sh*t zone, is to “leave your baggage at the door.” Drop all emotional connections with your piece and view it as if you have no personal feelings towards it. Look at it as a design, and a design that can become more successful with the proper collaborative input. The fact of the matter is, YOU are not going to be the ONLY person viewing this piece, and chances are, you’re doing the work for someone else. As soon as you reject all other opinions(although some opinions must be rejected), your piece begins to lose its potential value. For these reasons, it is important to avoid this section of the BS zone.

  • DT

    October 5, 2007 at 11:21 am Reply

    Hi Shane,
    You are quite right, and it one of the reads non-designer find it hard to work with us, and employers determine if a designer is a good hire or not.
    Your suggestion of getting around this is perfect. Designers need to take a step back and not get too personal with their work nor take criticisms too personally.
    It is really about the work and focus in making the project the best it can be.
    Thanks for your comments and for stopping by, please keep in touch.

  • Chuck Spidell

    August 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm Reply

    Number three. Gotta know when to quit.

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