Humans are quite capable of making a quick assessment of whatever happens in front of us. I’m sure it has something to do with that ancient “fight or flight” answer. You know, the one that tells us to run from the pack of wolves and fight for the last donut.
But in this day and age, those quick judgments aren’t always a good thing. It can even be expensive. Consider someone who looks a little different to you. They could be the nicest person you ever meet. But judging them by looks alone may cost you the chance to find out forever.
In design circles, we are so quick to judge others in our profession. It’s very easy to look at someone else’s work and call it “crap”. But are we judging fairly?
The Great Ignorance
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 funniest examples of this is when a new operating system is released. You will find designers complaining about various aspects of the look. There may even be some people who decide to create their “better” versions of the real thing.
Sure, it can be completely built OS / website / mobile app better. But there are many unknowns regarding the story behind the design:
First, we do not know the limitations placed on the designer(s). The wishes and opinions of the client’s needs can be a huge factor in determining the outcome. In addition, the allocated budget and timeline can be limited.
In addition to the whims of the client are the actual goals of the project. Specific goals often mean designers need to spend more time on related elements.
This may mean that less time is allocated to the things that designers might notice more than the general public.
Designer Experience and Expertise
If we don’t know someone on a personal level, we may not know where a designer is in their career. We don’t know their experience or their specialties.
For example, I am a self-taught designer and developer. Therefore, the design choices I make may be very different from someone with a formal education.
The point is, while we can criticize someone else’s hard work, we don’t know the whole story. Perhaps they did their best, given the circumstances. Or maybe they failed miserably.
Either way, it is wise to take a moment and consider the factors that may influence the outcome. You might consider it a learning experience.
Another important factor in unfair judgment is the element of competition. This seems to come up especially when we:
- Looking at portfolios from local designers or those within our niche;
- Take over a website from another designer;
- Another designer is accepting a website from us;
We can quickly judge these situations. Maybe that’s partly out of insecurity and maybe 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 compare ourselves favorably to others in these situations.
I have noticed this in my behavior. There have been cases where a client will criticize the previous designer after inheriting an existing site. I participated, even though I knew nothing about them or their challenges.
It also happened in the reverse situation when a site was lost to another person. When the site redesign was released, I was less than enthusiastic about it in my private thoughts.
As time goes on, I do this less often (thankfully). Sure, I can quibble with how a particular feature was built. But small judgments are fading.
Why It’s Harmful
My experience is that it is best to stay away from this type of behavior. On the surface, it might seem harmless – especially if you’re not making a statement to anyone about it. But there are several reasons to avoid it:
It’s a waste of time
If we have enough time to erase someone else’s faults, we must be doing something wrong. There simply must be more productive ways to spend a few spare minutes.
It can hinder Personal Growth
None of us are design experts – and we’re not perfect. By making disparaging judgments about others, we are acting like 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’re all about sharing knowledge and helping other designers improve. Trashing someone else’s work seems to be just the antithesis of that unofficial belief.
The bottom line is that nothing good can come from practice – so why bother?
The Choice is ours
Design is something that should always be open to criticism. But there is a big difference between looking at someone else’s work constructively or destructively.
In a constructive way, we can draw from what others have done and we can learn from it. It’s an opportunity to compare and contrast our style with that of another professional.
Choosing a destructive form of criticism is more about trying to elevate ourselves at someone else’s expense. Even if the other party doesn’t know about it, there is still a cost. It comes in the form of taking ourselves out of the right mindset.
The great thing is that we all have a choice in the matter. Let’s do the right one.