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Feb 07, 2007


Rob Mortimer

Constructive criticism yes. If you can say, this needs to be improved... then you should indeed.

Better for you to tell them and they can work on it than spending 8 months trawling round only to be told by the last people they see.


Constructive criticism should be given to everyone...but if someone really is so monumentally shit that you know they won't learn, and don't have the talent, then I honestly think that you have an obligation to say so as gently as possible.

Look at it this way - that person could spend a lifetime struggling in a career which is never going to take off, because they mistakenly think they're good or for whatever reason, and by being honest with them you could set them free to do something else they may be better at. If they don't listen, or they still believe that they're good, that's not your fault, but at least you've been honest.

If someone was a shit doctor (yes I know the consequences are slightly more dramatic here) you would hope to god that someone would tell them, so why should the world suffer shit designers? Like your 'Kitchen Nightmares' example, sometimes you just have to be brutally (but tactfully) honest. I'd hope people will be exactly the same way with me.

Mike Reed

Years ago when I was a full-time Creative Director I saw a team of two guys who'd travelled down to London from Newcastle or somewhere, seeking fame and fortune in graphic design. Their portfolio contained perhaps the worst work I have ever seen. But they were the most enthusiastic pair I'd ever encountered.

I bottled it. I tried to explain nicely about maybe not having 52 fonts overlapping in a 4pp leaflet, and about the importance of ideas, and the value of restraint. They were effusively grateful and, I fear, even more enthused by my attempts to be even-handed.

I should have told them. I should have said, "Guys, this is possibly the worst design work I have ever seen. You need to know that, and you need to go back to the drawing board."

I didn't, and I've regretted it ever since.


I see a lot of freelance illustrators and designers, and I must admit that on occation I have told one or two that they really should consider a) getting more education or b) a change of career. I don't feel good doing this, but they should be told that their work is so bad that there is no way I'm going to give them any work. And that if they hope to make a living doing illustration/design, they need to improve their skills. I hope that doesn't make me a bad person.

And if it does, I guess I can live with that too ...


I'd ask them what they want to achieve before they visit, and feedback appropriately. If they want experience then clearly they want to get better (be gentle). If they want a job, then clearly they think they are good enough already (be definitive).

Try and be helpful and honest - not always an easy tight rope to walk. Unless you want a TV show, in which case act like an arsehole.


I think that is ver, very, very, very good advice from Paul.


Only if they're from St. Martin's

Alex Parrott

I think it's best to treat young designers in interview situations as if they were a member of your studio. Crit them as you would in a normal progress meeting, at least that way they will get a good feel of what it would be like to work in a place like yours (which is probably what they are trying to figure out anyway). The scale of honesty and potential brutallity all comes down to the type of organisation you work for I guess. If you work in a power house and are normally quite frank with what you think, then let rip… the designer may get inspired by your criticism and call you back in 6 months time when they have had a chance to iron out the creases. And if they don't like what you had to say, at least they know the kind of place where they don't want to work.


You should check out the scene in The Motorcycle Diaries where one of the people who puts them up wants them to critique his novel manuscript. Guevara tells him like it is (the novel is bad), and the guy is grateful. Very interesting scene.

I wonder if there'll come a day when it will be considered obvious that it's important to answer questions like "what do you think of [this thing i did]?" honestly?

Dave C.

I did a short stint as a graphic arts instructor for a small design school. These kids paid a lot of money to go to that school. I think it's in their best interest to hear the truth. Of course you don't want to slam them, but you do need to take a really critical approach to why the designs they're coming up with aren't working at all. Perhaps with a little advise and a little hand holding, they can shape up to be better. There is a chance that they have no eye for design and that is a problem, but I believe we are responsible for helping create the next generation, so we must do our due diligence to make the best out of every situation, even if it means being completely honest about bad work.


The sad thing is that even if you do tell them, there's a good chance that they're not going to believe you. See the problem with bloody awful designers is that they don't know they are bloody awful.


The sad thing is some people actually like dancing kittens and glitter.


Everyone has an asset. Well most people. It's up to the more experienced (creative and design directors) to observe and comment constructively. Many design portfolios can demonstrate an illustrative or maybe a photographic quality. Maybe the portfolio bearer should be a good production person, or strategist, rather than living with the belief that he or she is a good creative.

So, my advice is look for something good. It's usually there. Somewhere. Cheers.

Matt Aubie

Thanks for writing this post - I myself am a first year design student in Canada and have oftened wished for harder critiques or more...straight forward reviews of my work. I run a blog www.thegraphicstudent.com, where I discuss different things that relate to design students. I've wanted to talk about the whole feedback situation for awhile and your post motivated me to post it. I'll see if I get any feedback over there.


I know quite a lot of awful designers who are doing great (financially). It's very well possible to be both succesful and very much lacking in talent. Also I think design quality is pretty subjective in many ways - *you* might find someone awful, someone else might just disagree.
Anyway, I think you should be very honest (in a gentle way) to students. For graduates and freelancers I agree with Carl.


Sometimes it's simply a matter of - do I want to be their friend and not hurt their feelings? Or do I want to be their friend and tell them the truth? In the end I'd feel more obliged to point out areas where they could improve...but jeez, "bloody awful"? That might cut a bit deep...but if they really are that bad, and that terminology is warranted...well then, hold your breath and do it.


this is hard, i am a designer, and the company i am with just went through a growth spurt. Its been quite difficult to maintain any kind of quality control with these new designers, but i feel as though our creative director is being too gentle on them... just instructing them on revisions instead of trying to change the way a person may think, and fixing the problems before they reach his desk.

I have AD'd a few small projects with a couple of them, and its not my place to say whether they are good or bad aloud, but it certainly creates a lot more work for me, not that i am amazing or anything.


An art director told me once he had a recent grad come for an interview and the guy's work was bad and the AD told him so. The grad called back a month later saying he'd gotten some freelance and added it to his portfolio so the soft hearted AD saw him again. This went on for about 6 months as the guy added more freelance work to his book. Eventually the work was great and the AD offered him a job. Guy turned it down as he'd already had a much better offer. Sometimes they aren't as bad as they seem.


I hope to visit London in the near future for the same reason. I think I have the hide to take the criticism, though. And, from the viewpoint of someone with very little real-world experience, I always want to hear the truth about my work.


I consider myself someone who's struggling to be 'good' or how ever it's defined. I'd rather be told by my collegues & other designers that I'm 'bloody awful' than be flattered.

I'd rather hear the actual words 'bloody aweful' than have someone dance around the truth.

Mr Diacritic

I find it helps to ask them questions. Why do you want to be a designer? What does this solution say? Is this the best solution you could come up with? What do you understand the point of design to be?
...and gradually let them see where they are falling short. Of course, if you don't have 45 minutes to do this you could just say they haven't a hope. But if you can let them see why their thinking or execution is lacking they might improve, even if they don't thank you for it. Ungrateful bastards.


you suck meanie you ass

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