Kedron Rhodes Thoughts on Design, Innovation & Leadership

Critical by Nature and How to Stop

A hallmark of a great designer leader is the ability to see through the mess, complexity and bureaucracy and envision a solution. In a word, optimism. So why do so many designers come across bitterly critical? I’ve observed (and been guilty) these 3 reasons.

1 Designers are forged through the fire of critique. The design critique is a foundational aspect of design school, and a constant part of the design profession. The design critique is a gauntlet of objective and subjective interpretations of a designer’s work, all aimed at shaping a piece into it’s best possible form. The process, by it’s very nature, is critical. We’re trained to see what’s wrong with something, or how something can be better.

Unchecked, critique becomes a way of looking at the world, and we end up broadcasting the notion that nothing and no one can meet our expectation. No one likes to be around this person.

2 Designers can get caught up in their own lens of interpreting the world, and begin to believe that their lens is the only right lens. The world is visual, and design disciplines are built around interpreting this visual world. We’re often the only one in the room with a trained eye towards what is ‘pleasing’ to the human eye. As a designer, awareness can be frustrating, because we’re acutely aware of how amazing everything is designed, never.

Unchecked, this awareness breeds cynicism, and cynicism is an ugly way of seeing the world.

3 Designers can be jerks. Let’s face it, we all have off days. A designer’s off day taps into the critical world of critique and brooding cynicism, and transforms it into a venomous cocktail of seething hatred for anything that isn’t fresh.

Unchecked, you live a lonely life, because who wants to be around that person?!

So as designers, how do we avoid these pitfalls? Here are a couple of rules that I’ve found helpful.

Rule 1: Know the difference between a critique and being critical. They have similar characteristics, with one major difference: A critique is given in the context where value is being built through criticism. If you’re not in the position to influence something for the better, then offering a critique is simply being critical. Stop it.

Rule 2: When wrestling with how aware you are of design fails, learn to appreciate the differences and variety in the human experience. I’ve found that the more critical I am of my surroundings, the less appreciation and understanding I have for others. Turn it around.

Don’t let criticism rob you of being an effective design leader.

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