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Art critics — they’re everywhere.

As a Graphic Designer, it’s difficult to be hired to design something because of your field of expertise, only to be criticized by someone who has no idea what he is talking about.  Immediately the old adage, “everyone’s a critic” comes to mind.  It’s not the criticism that bothers me.  It’s the blatant lack of knowledge that comes through when the other individual is talking to me.  When he tells me, for instance, that I need to be stitching together different pieces of various logo concepts into a single design, I’m silently wondering whether we’re trying to create Frankenstein’s monster.  Or when he tells me that this element or that needs to be moved over to make room for a strong gradient, I face palm and thank the web 2.0 movement for declaring that everything needs both a gradient and a drop shadow so that it seems shiny and futuristic and, of course, well-lit.  Yikes.

Now, an art critic might actually have valuable criticism for me about composition, color, layout, etc.  And I suppose that would make the difference regarding my ability to accept criticism: whether the other individual knows what he is talking about.

Suppose we were in the medical field for a moment.  I have no medical degree.  I have limited knowledge about how the body’s mechanics actually work.  But I wonder what the response of a cardiologist would be if I began to criticize his assessment of a heart condition, pointing out things I have no idea about. Can you imagine the audacity it would require in order for me to criticize a cardiologist’s diagnosis?

This reminds me of an episode of The Office where Jim and Pam have just had CiCi and the nurse comes in to help since the infant won’t nurse, at which point Pam points out they they’ve read about confusion for the baby if it is bottle fed first rather than breastfed.  The nurse (who has to be educated and certified in her role, mind you) then replies sardonically, “Oh good, you already know everything.”

Uneducated criticism is just the worst.  Pseudo-educated criticism via information discovered on the internet is possibly even more offensive.  What is it about us that we can’t let the experts be the experts? We criticize umpires, weathermen, politicians, sports athletes, and any other number of professions, often with virtually no experience in such positions or knowledge of the demands and requirements of those positions.

I can admit that I have learned from uneducated criticism.  I have learned how to understand what the Client is really saying or what he really needs.  I think this can be true of most uneducated criticism.  Still, I’d rather be criticized and learn from someone who knows what he is actually talking about.  One thing I’ve learned that is not uncommon among people who go to experts: they want someone who knows better to agree with exactly what they want.  Affirmation is good, right?  Makes you feel that you know more than you actually do when it is wholly undeserved.  But you don’t know anymore than you did before.  For every instance that I let a Client have what he wanted, I knew I wouldn’t be able to include that work in my portfolio because I had permitted poor design to enter into a wider field of view and also helped perpetrate what I call “trash design,” which is design that is purchased for the moment, to meet some immediate need and due to which has no sense of permanence or style or redeeming quality.  It would be better off in the trash bin.

So what do you do when criticized by someone with opinion rather than information?  You can either accept it and implement the “improvements” he has suggested.  Or, you can use that opportunity to inform, to educate that individual on the subject in which you’re educated.  This won’t always work, but at least you tried, and if you’re a designer, I’d caution you to proceed with such a Client, especially if he won’t back down from unusable criticism.  Also, be aware of your own defensiveness as an artist and consider whether the other individual might know what he’s talking about (I mean, it’s possible he might have a valid point, though not probable).

More often than not, an individual coming to you for design services doesn’t know how to design for himself (though he will always have opinions). It is your job as a designer to ensure that good design proliferates the world and offers an artistic presentation of the Client’s message or content.  It is not your job as a designer to accommodate poor design decisions at a Client’s whim.

It’s easier at the end of the day to make a few bucks and kick back.  But it’s more rewarding to make good decisions and leave a legacy of good art in your wake.  Remember, art critics are everywhere.