how to deal with criticism

Guide on How to Take Criticism for Designers

What is a designer’s biggest fear? Think about it for a second. It may be a fear of failure and inability to actually reach your biggest potential. For some, it’s a fear of vulnerability or not meeting the customer’s expectations. Maybe it is the fear of not being creative and having very few ideas or, on the contrary, expressing oneself. There are many more things each person can add, and I’m sure among those will be a fear of criticism. The wrong approach to this usual part of each designer’s life can be disastrous. Why, and what is the wrong approach? Let’s discuss and try to figure out how to handle criticism correctly and become less sensitive to it.

What is Criticism at Its Core?

Sign with the text "Less Awesome" on it

When you hear criticism you are basically receiving a variation of feedback. However, the difference between these two is that while feedback is about giving advice and offering changes to implement for the future, criticism is more oriented towards mistakes and the past. For example, the saying: “I’d rather we changed the colors into softer ones as it will benefit the user’s perception”, is feedback. And when you hear: “These colors don’t fit the brand’s identity well enough, and we need to change it”, you are receiving criticism. This is a constructive one, as easy as that. 

However, sometimes people may hear: “Have you even read the brief? Even if you did, you seem stupid enough to not have understood it”. This is also criticism, but it is destructive criticism. The difference between the two is that the last is meant to belittle and attack a designer’s skills or personality. Here you can see some differences between the two:

Description of the differences between destructive and constructive criticism

Destructive criticism must be dealt with immediately. Usually, the best way to do it is to call the person out and mention the thing that seemed offensive. If it doesn’t work and it turns to constant criticism, you need to take action immediately. Report to the higher institutions or stop the collaboration. These are crucial steps to ensure your comfort as a human being. 

However, sometimes people get really sensitive, even when receiving constructive critique. That’s why we’ve worked out a little step-by-step plan of what you need to do when dealing with this form of feedback. If you feel that you need a strategy to get through your next design proofing, feel free to use the ideas in this article. 

While Being Criticized

Hand pointing to a laptop screen

It is definitely not a pleasant experience to hear criticism about your work, especially if it is the asset you’ve been working on for the last few days and you love everything about it. However, while reading or listening to good criticism it’s important to keep your cool. The main idea is to focus on your reactions and thoughts and listen actively. 

If it is a meeting – keep being engaged. If you seem interested in the work, your customer will be more talkative and open. This may benefit their mood, and the customer may add suggestions or agree with your creative choices. However, if this is not the case and you are being harshly criticized and the feelings overflow, try to calm yourself. You can keep reminding yourself that the thing commented is not you but the work. Try to disassociate yourself from your feelings and keep account of facts only. 

Hand holding a pen

However, the best thing you can do is take notes of everything your customer is saying. At first, write down only things that he suggests or doesn’t like. With time you will learn to highlight the most important parts that you know will be in use. Alternatively, ask the customer if you can record the meeting to rewatch it later and analyze everything. The most important part of the meeting is to thank the customer for their words. Be sure to not forget this part, as it will also make them more benevolent toward you. 

However, not all criticism is given via meetings, and neither should it. All people are different, and they react differently to difficulties. That’s why each designer should find a way that works best for them. If you can’t bear a single thought of being criticized in real time when you have to see the person in front of you, try Approval Studio.

It allows your customers to leave comments on your artwork using different shapes and colors. Furthermore, it is possible to do it in real time. Plus, you can still make notes of all your thoughts you’ve got while reading. So, if you’re up to this kind of experience, sign up for a demo and dive into this new world of the best design approval software. 

Right After You Were Criticized

The first 10 to 15 minutes after receiving critique are extremely important. During this time, your main task will be to deal with your emotions and thoughts and start to create the base for further work. 

Two baristas making coffee

The first thing you need to do after slapping your laptop closed is to take a breather. Go out, make a coffee, or rant to a person you know. Do everything that will make you come back to your usual state. You should do that, as designers are usually attached to their work, especially if it’s something they like. That’s why it is crucial to calm down and get open to all the changes your customer decides to make. 

Once you feel peaceful again, review the notes you’ve made during the meeting. Rewrite or reorganize everything you have to make it make sense. This is the most important part of the process as you are coming up with new ideas right there and then. Set a stopwatch to 10 minutes and write down all your thoughts concerning the changes. Keep writing until the very end of those ten minutes. Sketch, use colored markers, shapes, or words to get the most out of your mind. By pushing your boundaries, you will get ideas you never knew could have appeared in your head. 

After this step, you can go on to create a specific plan for your work, which will probably consist of trying out all the ideas written down. However, what is important here, is to not forget the customer’s requirements. Look over the creative brief a few more times, the recording you made before, or your notes. You can use all these as a beacon on your way to greatness. 

How to Turn Criticism Into Power

Now that you have total control of your life and emotions, it is a good time to actually start altering your work. The first thing you need to do is to make notes into a to-do list. Write down everything you would like to try using in your new version. It can be different color palettes or fonts, or just a slight change of form. I mean, it’s no surprise that our memory can sometimes be rather unreliable. So, write down every single detail you need to work on. 

A board with stickers on it, words problems/pains is the most visible one

Another facet you might want to consider is the reliability of your graphic design software. Maybe, the interface is distracting or slowing you down because of its complexity. Maybe, the software does not allow you to finish the product without leaving the software, and you need to use other tools to do that. All that is taking away precious time you could spend creating your perfect design. So, reflect on what worked well in your previous projects and what didn’t. Experiment until you find something that ensures flawless workflow. If you need ideas, check out our article on that topic.

One last crucial thing is to ask questions. They say it’s better to be safe than sorry, and we say it’s better to be annoying than at fault. Be confident, and remember that there isn’t such a thing as a stupid question. On the contrary, the client may seem happy being asked multiple questions as it will show your interest in his project. This type of communication may benefit both of you as the client will probably be less harsh when giving constructive criticism; you will feel more comfortable receiving it! So, communicate and never take too long before reaching out with another version of the artwork.

Final Thoughts

The main takeaway of this article is that you should not be afraid of criticism. It is a normal process that helps you grow as a professional (as long as it is healthy criticism). So, don’t sweat it, and send that asset you were afraid to submit for a review. Because now you have step-by-step instructions on how to deal with criticism if you get any. Approval Studio’s design review tool is always there to help you make this process less stressful!)



A girl who cannot imagine her life without coffee with orange juice & something new. Can spend the night reading articles on topics she has never even heard about the night before. Actually, that was how she started her path in design.


A girl who cannot imagine her life without coffee with orange juice & something new. Can spend the night reading articles on topics she has never even heard about the night before. Actually, that was how she started her path in design.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *