Humans are quite adept at quickly assessing whatever happens to be in front of us. I’m sure it has something to do with that ancient “fight or flight” response. You know, the one that tells us to run from the pack of wolves and fight for that last donut.
But in modern times, those fast judgments aren’t always a good thing. It can even be costly. Think of a person who looks a bit different from you. They could be the nicest person you’d ever meet. But judging them by looks alone could cost you the chance to ever find out.
In design circles, we’re just as quick to judge others in our profession. It’s incredibly easy to glance at another’s work and call it “crap.” But are we judging fairly?
The Great Unknowns
When we see another designer’s work, we either like it or not. That’s fair enough. But, have you ever thought that you could do it better?
One of the more amusing examples of this is when a new operating system is released. You’ll find designers complaining about various aspects of the look. There may even be some who decide to create their own “better” versions of the real thing.
Sure, it’s possible to have built that whole OS/website/mobile app better. But there are many unknowns regarding the story behind the design:
First, we don’t know the limitations placed on the designer(s). Client needs wants and opinions can be a huge factor in determining the outcome. Plus, the allotted budget and timeline can also be limiting.
Along with the whims of a client are the actual goals of the project. Specific goals often mean that designers have to dedicate more time to associated elements.
That may mean less time is allocated to the things that we designers may tend to notice more than the general public.
Designer Experience and Expertise
Short of knowing someone on a personal level, we may never know where a designer is in their respective career. We don’t know their experiences or specialties.
For example, I’m a completely self-taught designer and developer. Therefore, the design choices I make may be quite different from someone who is formally educated.
The point is that, while we can criticize someone else’s hard work, we don’t know the whole story. Perhaps they did the best they could, given the circumstances. Or perhaps they failed miserably.
Either way, it’s wise to take a moment and consider the factors that may have affected the outcome. You might even consider it a learning experience.
Another important factor in unfair judgment is the element of competition. This seems to especially pop up whenever we:
Are looking at portfolios from local designers or those within our niche;
Taking over a website from another designer;
Another designer is taking over a website from us;
We can be quick to judge in these situations. That may be partly out of insecurity and perhaps a bit of ego, as well. Web design is a very saturated industry, and it’s natural to want to stand out. It makes sense that we would want to compare ourselves favorably to others in these cases.
I’ve noticed this in my behavior. There have been instances where, after inheriting an existing site, a client will criticize the previous designer. I’ve found myself joining in, even though I knew nothing about them or their challenges.
It’s also happened in the reverse situation of losing a site to someone else. When the site’s redesign was released, I was less-than-classy about it in my private thoughts.
As time has gone on, I (thankfully) find myself doing this less often. Sure, I may quibble with how a particular feature was built. But petty judgments are fading away.
Why It’s Harmful
My experience has been that it’s best to stay away from this type of behavior. On the surface, it may seem harmless – especially if you’re not making remarks to anyone about it. But there are several reasons to avoid it:
It’s a Waste of Time
If we have enough time to pick apart the flaws of someone else, we must be doing something wrong. There simply have to be more productive ways to spend a few free minutes.
It Can Hamper Personal Growth
None of us are design experts – nor are we perfect. By making dismissive judgments about others, we’re acting as though we are. Arrogance is a roadblock on the way to self-improvement.
It Goes Against the Spirit of the Design Community
As a community, we are all about sharing knowledge and helping fellow designers to improve. Trashing someone else’s work just seems to be the antithesis of that unofficial credo.
The bottom line is that nothing good can come out of the practice – so why bother?
The Choice is Ours
Design is something that should always be open to criticism. But there is a stark difference between viewing someone else’s work constructively or destructively.
In a constructive sense, we can take from what others have done and potentially learn from it. It’s an opportunity to compare and contrast our style to that of another professional.
Choosing a destructive form of critique is more about attempting to uplift ourselves at the expense of someone else. Even if the other party doesn’t know about it, there’s still a cost. It comes in the form of taking ourselves out of the right frame of mind.
The great thing is that we all have a choice in the matter. Let’s make the right one.