Criticizing Opinion

UK designer, Brendan Dawes, unleashed a beast yesterday with his pointed criticism of the UK design community, entitled "I've got to say this. The UK web design scene is often just self serving, indulgent bullshit perpetuated by friends of friends."

Without expounding on some very intelligent commentary from another UK designer I am growing to respect more and more, @monooso, my purpose in following up on this thread is an attempt to clarify what I believe to be at the heart of the "outrage".

The outrage resulting from a perfectly valid opinion began when a commenter referenced the newly launched website of a prominent UK designer by sharing his opinion, "it was a clean site but it was nothing spectacular"and explained, "I felt all of the praise was because of who he was rather than the quality of his site's re-design."Given the context of Mr. Dawes post, this comment is absolutely valid and in no way disparaged the design or designer.

Nonetheless, outrage boiled over with a few highly respected designers who made it clear that it is not appropriate to criticize (other high profile designers) in a public forum - regardless of whether or not the criticism is related to the topic at hand.

It seems to me that the crux of the argument goes something like this ...

It is apparently not acceptable:

  • to criticize a designer's work in a public forum, like Twitter

Apparently, the time an place for criticism:

  • is in person, at a pub over a pint or glass of Scotch

I've got two words that would easily suffice for describing how ridiculous this newly created "creative code of behavior" is, but because it is apparently not "ethical" to:

  • mention other designers by name or reference their work in a public forum
  • use a viable design example to bolster an opinion (as long as that example is a friend of a respected designer)

I will simply refer to said argument as:

  • a bunch of egotistical ninnies who have allowed their britches to get a little too big as a result of their relative standing in the design community

Logic would dictate ...

If it is perfectly acceptable to use Twitter (or, another public forum) to:

  • broadcast a new design and invite commentary
  • state an opinion about a design or designer
  • refer to a design as "brilliant", "genius", "inspiring", or "extraordinary"
  • anoint a designer "the best designer in the world"
  • generally "kiss ass" 

… in order to promote what are, often times, ordinary design solutions, then

It is also acceptable to use Twitter (or, another public forum) to:

  • question the validity of an opinion or statement
  • criticize 

Otherwise, there is a bit of a double standard if you ask me. You can't have praise without criticism, just like you can't have coffee without the diuretic component. Praise and criticism go hand-in-hand.

If it is perfectly acceptable to use 140 characters to offer unsupported praise, then it is also perfectly acceptable to use 140 characters to offer criticism. You can't have one without the other.

Stating that the "only acceptable time and place" for criticism is out of public earshot over a pint of beer is pointedly absurd. We work in a highly connected visual medium. Nearly everything we do is for public consumption and that means that everything we do is also up for public critique. I can't imagine that these design superstars are as fragile as ... well, I could be wrong. It's tough being the alpha dog.

Never once have I ever assumed that everyone who sees my work will love it, and never once have I ever assumed that people did not have a right to critique my work in the public space. One person's opinion will have little to no bearing on my career, and I am not thin-skinned enough that I can't take a valid critique.  

During my career as an art student, I endured brutal public critiques of my work on a weekly basis. I learned to appreciate "artistic distance". I also learned to look for ways to improve my craft and my skills.  Critiques are invaluable and necessary for artistic development. They are also invaluable for learning how to help other creatives. As long as a rationale is substantiated, it shouldn't matter if the commentary about your work is positive or negative.

It's not like you are telling your brother that his wife's mustache was wiped on her upper lip by his best friend … that's when meeting in person over a pint is required to cushion the blow.

Being a professional designer means I have as much right to respectfully criticize your work as I do praise it. Especially, if you are the best designer in the world.

What is truly unacceptable:

  • personal attacks
  • patronizing bloviation
  • apologizing for a perfectly valid observation or opinion out of fear of recrimination from prominent professionals