Designer to Designer Empathy

Design empathy within our own community is nearly dead.

As designers, we are generally close as a community. No matter if you’re in New York City, Phoenix, or a microscopic town in the mid-west – you’ll find that as creatives we band together and will support one another no matter what. Right? Wrong. When it comes to destination internet – that massive city of about 2 billion+ people – the design community falls short on support.

I’ve noticed this trend for a while and it’s becoming more and more toxic as the years go by. It’s something we see everywhere online. From Facebook to random forums, it’s easier for people to talk smack and complain than it is for them to say something supportive and happy. The same is true for designers.

I’ve been guilty of this behavior. I’ve been the one who has jumped on the smack-talk train of a “bad” design I found online with no regard to the team who created that work. It wasn’t until the past year or two that I started to take a step back and realize how destructive this is. On Facebook, some designers have created groups that contains hundreds or even thousands of other designers to connect everyone. More and more the posts are going from “Check out how amazing this is!” or “How do you handle this situation?”, to “Holy shit look at how bad this rebrand is!” or “What were they thinking with this ad?!”.

These trash-talk posts have become a cesspool of negative, de-constructive comments. Instead of pointing out something that’s not great and constructively critiquing it, the posts become a contest of who can make the snarkiest remark about the design. Again, I’ve been guilty of this and am not innocent, but I’ve stopped this type of behavior.

There isn’t one event that changed my attitude, but rather the ongoing collection of negative-ness on design blogs and Facebook groups. So what do we need to do as designers?

Creative’s always feel like they should design for good and make a positive impact in the world, but in this case, there isn’t some cool campaign to be designed: it’s a behavior change.

design critique
Remember those constructive design critiques from school.

Critique, don’t trash talk.

This is an easy one. Go back to what you learned in design school and internships, and think about how professionals reviewed one another’s work. You wouldn’t talk shit about someone’s design in front of their face (or maybe you would, which is an entirely different problem), so don’t feel empowered behind a keyboard. This is dangerous not only to the person who worked on the design, but to your reputation as creative in the community.

Sandwich your comments.

Some people hate this style, but I’ve found it works well. Comment on something you admire > then something you’d change > then something you admire again. If anything, end the feedback on a positive note and be genuine about it. Don’t make it up either, if you don’t have anything nice to say then just don’t say anything at all. Which brings me to my next point.

Nothing constructive? Then shut up.

My favorite saying is this, “Opinions are like assholes: everyone has one and they’re full of shit.” That includes yours and mine. Yes, it’s good to get varying opinions on something but generally those opinions are unjustified and cruel with these types of comments. If you can make it something that doesn’t come off as crude, then go for it! If you can’t then just keep it to yourself and maybe some close friends.

Remember that you’re a designer.

This is incredibly important and you can call it many things; from putting yourself in someone’s shoes to empathy. Just remember the struggles you go through as a designer and that the person who created what you’re looking at probably went through similar situations. It could be a client having a heavy hand on the end result, or possibly the restrictions of time and resources to execute the project.

The design is already done.

Alright, this isn’t true all the time (especially for things like product design) but keep in mind that what you’re having feelings about is a design that is most likely finished and paid for. Your comments may be useful for future projects and considered a good learning experience, but only if they’re constructive. Don’t just give subjective feedback, but give feedback based on understanding the audience or actual fact-based reasoning. Most importantly, keep in mind that you’re voice probably won’t have any effect at all other than building up or burning down that designers spark.

I know this all sounds like a lot of censorship and unconstructive behavior, especially when I say to “just shut up”. It’s necessary at this point, though. We’ve become so toxic in the design community that we need to take a breather and only fill the forums and feeds with constructive critiques. Note how I said constructive, not positive. Not everything has to be sunshine & rainbows, but it does have to be constructive. We’re only stronger as a support system, and weaker as a snarky pool of frustrated creatives.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you noticed this trend or been a contributor to it? Do you think it’s unhealthy or healthy to have this type of negative feedback?


    1. Totally agree! It’s definitely a plague all over the internet, but the difference is the creative community likes to promote “design for good” and having a positive impact on the world – yet so many are destructive to their own peers. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand what your saying it is good to critique if its done in a positive manner and not going in swinging a sledge hammer, the damage that can be done to a persons self esteem is immense:) there too much emphasis on profit and numbers and not enough on quality and respect to others.

        Liked by 1 person

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