Khoi Vinh just posted an incredible piece about design criticism for his Subtraction blog entitled “Dear Designers, You Suck”. He calls for a new kind of design criticism, one that separates the designer from their work and attempts to imbue the field with more objective and honest criticism.
…are we really having the kinds of meaningful, constructive, critical discourses that we really should be having? Are we too quick to take offense at the opinions of our peers? Or are we pulling our punches too much when discussing the merits of the work that our peers turn out? To put a finer point on it: are we being honest with one another?
The answer is definitely no, we are not being honest with one another. As a student, I am very familiar with the problem he describes. As our school is critique based, we see this avoidance of real, honest criticism every day. When something truly awful gets laid in front of us, we hedge around what we really think with all sorts of meaningless qualifiers: “Well, um, I think…for me anyway, and maybe it’s just the light but…the colors aren’t working.. but uh.. in the best way possible.” I know I for one have never felt comfortable saying what I really think, and this is the problem. There is no way to really grow if you don’t get the critique you need, and getting past the discomfort of critiquing honestly is what desperately needs to happen, as awkward as it might seem at first.
The harsher teachers at our school tend to get a bad reputation for being blunt–which in my mind translates to a good reputation. I’ve always seen the most improvement with my own work when the first thing the teacher says is “this is really bad, and here’s why.” I want the teacher that makes people cry. I want to hear “this is terrible” when the work actually is. The worst thing someone can do is say they like something just to be polite.
Khoi’s article is a breath of fresh air, and I truly hope his words will be put to practice. I like to imagine what class would be like if everyone truly spoke their mind; how exciting! How much more we would learn! Maybe it won’t happen tomorrow, but it can start with reading this article. Well done Khoi for calling attention to a such a pervasive problem!