Constructive criticism is great, it’s useful as a learning tool and it’s an integral part of working in a creative industry. Work gets done, checked, commented on, approved, iterated on, improved, checked and put out into the wild. Without constructive criticism, the “iterated” and “improved” steps wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful. However, if the criticism is not constructive or is overly negative, people get upset and resentful; morale drops. Part of the problem with constructive criticism or review is the way in which the process is framed - it’s “constructive criticism” and the word criticism stands out like a sore thumb.
In a high-pressure environment, where most people are fighting fires all day and barely have enough time to do their own work, the process of providing feedback often gets short-cut. I’ve been guilty of this myself.
At work, I often provide code review before we ship new features and major changes to our clients’ sites. The aim of code-review is to provide a second pair of eyes on the code, to catch silly mistakes (that we all make) and provide a learning forum for everyone on the team, continuously raising everyone’s awareness and skill level by learning from each other.
Code review or design crit always frames the process as “let me tell you what’s wrong, then you can fix it” or in extreme cases, “come to me because I know more than you, I’ll tell you what you’ve done badly and show you how I would do it”. Rarely is work a catastrophe of errors and poor decision making, but the “let me tell you what’s wrong” is the shortcut that gets applied because time is tight and things need to get shipped.
This sucks. We always forget to praise the good stuff, we only point out the shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, if there are major shortcomings, they should be pointed out - but they shouldn’t constitute 100% of the feedback. There is often far more good in a piece of work than there are major (or even minor) errors.
I’m sure we could all be a bit more positive and I’d put money on even the small things making a difference. After all, there’s nothing better than being on the receiving end of a compliment and feeling like a valued part of a team.
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