How to Criticize with Kindness ... Arguing Intelligently

9 years ago from , Director, Digital Strategy & UX

We've been seeing a lot of 'critique' lately, of others' blog posts, in unsolicited redesigns, through response posts. While I enjoy some of it, one thing keeps cropping up: general lack of attention, charity, and honesty when it comes to pulling apart the work of others.

I know many here feel the same way, since every 'redesign' post is met with a host of comments showing where/why the author went wrong.

I thought I'd link to this quick outline, and nice little write up, of Daniel Dennet's etiquette for criticism.

Daniel Dennet is a philosopher, sure (of mind, AI, etc.), but if we're going to argue, he makes some good points about how to do it well:

"How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  • You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

  • You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  • You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  • Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."

I'm not considering this off-topic, because design is critique of a special sort in itself, I think: good (visual) communication is always saying things better and more clearly than before. This also comes into play in the boardroom.

Maybe a bit philosophical, but it's Friday afternoon after all :)


  • Ray LuongRay Luong, 9 years ago

    If I could give 5 upvotes, I would.

    3 points
  • Samihah ASamihah A, 9 years ago

    This is such a great set of guidelines. I know a couple of people, designers and otherwise, that could do with reading this..

    0 points
  • Henri LirianiHenri Liriani, 9 years ago

    This is a good list of guidelines (I like Dennett too), and fosters a more peaceful, sober, and most importantly: productive discussion.

    However, I think there is something valuable in unadulterated feedback. While feedback is truly excellent if it follows these guidelines, I think it's too high of a standard to have, and won't realistically prepare you for the criticism you'll receive by basically 100% of critics who don't follow this.

    TL;DR there are two players in the feedback game, and sometimes you really do have to look in the mirror before the "critics are stupid."

    0 points
    • Adam Michiels, 9 years ago

      Totally agree. I think that learning how to get slammed and keep on moving is a very valuable thing.

      That said though, I think this applies more in cases where people are critiquing to actually keep the learning/conversation/producing moving along.

      Cold criticism is more of an attack or a polemic in many cases.

      0 points
      • Account deleted 9 years ago

        I think it's also important to add that a lot of times the quality of feedback is directly proportional to the time invested in the work itself/how it's presented. Especially online.

        When someone on Behance/Dribbble/Wherever posts a redesign and/or conceptual work... and it's like a dozen screenshots - some showing user interaction examples alongside some text explaining their thought process and why they did things... you almost always find the responses to be more professional and helpful as a whole.

        I firmly believe that this is because if someone takes the time to think things through and has logic on why they did certain things, it creates a situation where critics need to step back and think about the designers point of view and then propose tweaks or thoughts based of of this presentation. More often than not, the quality of responses is pretty similar to the initial presentation. The "presenter" set the tone.

        When someone simply posts one or two shots, with no overview of what it is, why they did it and how it solves something... it opens them to simpleton attacks and comments. It's much harder to simply say "this sucks" to someone who presents something thought out and in-depth over someone who posts simple shot with little to no insight.

        I think as we strive to provide better feedback on things, it's absolutely key to also work on presenting work better. THIS is absolutely HUGE in real life. The better you are at pitching something... internally to a small team, your boss, or a client... the more constructive the feedback and discussion will be.

        0 points
  • Jon MarshJon Marsh, 9 years ago

    Right on point with this list.

    0 points
  • Jayna WallaceJayna Wallace, 9 years ago

    This is great - thanks for sharing!

    I'd saved this other link from forever ago - also has a lot of relevant tips: https://github.com/andymangold/gd1/blob/master/notes/critique-guidelines.md

    0 points
    • Adam Michiels, 9 years ago

      That's a pretty succinct list! My fave:

      "If you don't know the project's intent, state your criticism within the context of an assumed intent."

      2 points