When it comes to criticism,

don’t take it personally!


Mark Coster

Founder of Pixooma

In business, we all face situations where what we've done for clients doesn’t match their expectations. Whether we’ve missed something critical, or a client has changed their mind, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that when your efforts haven’t hit the mark, you don’t take it personally.

Only human

No one gets everything right first time. We all make mistakes. We are not perfect or indeed psychic. And let’s face it proof/checking stages are an essential part of most creative projects, so you need to be prepared for feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. You also need to ask for feedback too. You can’t assume that some clients might not just think that’s it – the final version and not be bothered to send you their thoughts.

So next time your client pulls you up about a typo, an alignment issue, the wrong image, or missing text, don’t get offended, despondent or defensive. Instead, be polite, understanding and listen. What you need to do is work collaboratively to find a compromise and/or a solution.

There is real skill in being able to tease out the details and get constructive feedback, even when the client can't quite articulate what's wrong.

Balancing act

Obviously, it’s good when clients appreciate that it’s a balancing act and use language which actively supports teamwork. For example, “Could we just change this slightly so it’s more central and perhaps smaller?” or, “Not sure I like how this sounds, but here are some other phrases you might like to include instead.”

However, what can be frustrating is when a client fails to articulate accurately what is wrong. This can leave you at a loss to know what to do to make things better. Over the years, I have heard several of these phrases. “I don’t think it’s working.” “I’m disappointed.”  “It’s not good enough” or “I wouldn’t have done it like that.” None of these are of any use without context and/or actionable input on what needs to change and why.

But this is where I think there is real skill in being able to tease out the details and get constructive feedback, even when the client can't quite articulate what wrong. And it's part of the creative process that is often overlooked or misunderstood.

Feedback not random comments

Years ago, when I was employed, one of the directors where I worked marked up a PDF with just four words in the margin - “I don’t believe this!” Well, I don’t know about you but there is very little as a designer that I can do with that. It’s not feedback, just a comment. Needless to say, this meant a few wasted hours as I tried to get him to put some meat on the bones, so I could address his real concern.

Being approachable, flexible, understanding and focused on achieving an outcome where everyone is happy is the goal. It’s worth remembering that one of the more important techniques when receiving criticism is to make it less about you and more about your work. I always look beyond the personal aspect and try to follow these essential five steps:

Take a minute

Listen without responding


Thank them


Ask questions

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