Here's the real deal that no one wants to talk about.
You aren't imagining it.
Everyone is judging you and the work you put out there.
And yeah, they're looking at your source code too.
And wondering why you didn't make that site responsive.
Or why you used that photo.
Or why you didn't make a proper seamless background.
Or why you didn't test in IE.
Or why you chose those colors.
Or what you were thinking when you wrote that blog post.
As viewers, we don't know the full story behind every design decision. Perhaps your client insisted on that photo. Perhaps responsive design wasn't in the budget. Perhaps the client changed the website after you launched. But none of that matters to the outside observer – all they judge is what they see on the screen.
A recent talk with another designer friend revealed that she's been putting off putting her own personal projects out there because she's afraid of negative reaction. We'd both been burned by courses and bought products that didn't live up to the hype.
We both said we didn't want to ever produce something that we weren't proud of (and we've both taken our names off of projects that were so far off of our original concepts they were unrecognizable).
I know I've resisted putting a lot of my own ideas out there because I refuse to put out substandard work. And I know I have critics out there who routinely criticize my work. (and yes, I do read it).
But the truth is, unless you're willing to put yourself out there, you're limiting yourself (and preventing others from finding out about you!)
You have to take risks to get noticed.
And your opinion (or design or blog post) may not be popular or approved by everyone. One mentor even told me that you hadn't really "made it" until you had critics.
Truth is, you're never going to please everyone.
And jealousy abounds.
Years ago in college I studied art & architectural history (my childhood dream was to work at the Smithsonian as a curator). I was taught to think critically about design and viewer experience. And in the art classes I took, we always had critiques of our work. And we had to explain why we made the choices we did. And back it up.
Critique wasn't done with spite & malice – it was done to guide us to examine our process and teach us to defend our decisions. I learned invaluable lessons in those early reviews – lessons I still apply today when presenting design comps to clients.
Criticism is a valid form of dialogue – but you have a responsibility as a professional to maintain a level of dignity. The problem with internet (or armchair) criticism is that people forget that real people are behind the pixels. What you say and do online is a reflection of you AND your business.
First: What can you do to shift the negative tone of criticism?
Whether you're the one being critiqued or you're critiquing others really evaluate the following BEFORE you react:
- Is this a valid criticism or personal preference?
- Are you being critical because their work exposes things you aren't doing yourself?
- Are you jealous of the client/materials/subject matter?
- Are you critiquing in open forums or in private?
- Will your words affect the business of that person (either positively or negatively?)
Second: As bloggers, content creators, designers and developers, what can we do to support each other so we're ALL doing our best work?
You may not realize how powerful your online persona really is and how your words and actions can affect the work of others. I've recently talked to several people who have stopped writing posts and considered not speaking at conferences because of online backlash.
If we keep an open, honest dialogue going WITHOUT resorting to name calling or unfairly criticizing the work of others (especially in public forums), we can only serve to push each other, create better work and continue to serve the clients we are meant to work with.
Do you trust the source that constantly criticizes without merit OR do you trust the source that explains their reasoning in a sound, logical manner?
Third: How can we change our own mindset around criticism?
The fear of putting my opinion out there, promoting myself and opening myself up to even more criticism has certainly limited me in the past few years. A recent mindset change shifted my whole perspective.
Whenever I felt critical of someone else (or felt criticized by someone), I repeated this simple statement:
"I am happy for [name of person's] success."
By removing the negative association with the other person, it shifts the energy of the conversation. When you don't feel attacked, you can evaluate the validity of the criticism and craft an appropriate response.
Fourth: What really matters + tips to deal
You will have ups and downs – just last week I saw a negative (and invalid) remark about an old project of mine. Not ten minutes later I had a comment from a very respected theme developer complimenting my work.
You seriously can't please everyone. Nor should that be your aim.
Keep reminders of your success around you (I keep every single thank you card from every client near my desk). Having an off day? Read testimonials from former clients and remind yourself that you are doing what you're meant to do.
At the end of the day – if you have served one person, one client, one project – you have succeeded.