Ego in design crits

Early on in my career, I sucked at design crits. Not because I had a bad attitude or couldn’t take criticism, but because I saw it as a chance to flex to my peers. Look how clever I am! I wanted to be seen as a great designer. To do that I did what I thought good designers do in design crits. I did my best to point out what needed to be improved.

One day, my boss pulled me aside. He said to me, “you know, what you’re doing is really helpful - but it actually helps people more when they find the answer for themselves. So at the next design crit, try and only ask questions.”

So I did, and it stuck from then on. I went from “this doesn’t make sense, could you try X?” to “what are you trying to communicate here?” It was such a fundamental shift in my thought process that I see it as one of the most important realisations I had as a junior designer: I’m not helping people improve their work or themselves by giving them the answers.

Asking questions helped me gain a better understand of my peers’ decisions. The response “I’m not sure” opens up the conversation for them to work it out on their own. Especially given that you only have a small window into their world of constraints.

A great designer has removed their ego enough to admit they don’t know everything and strives to learn by asking questions. This is especially true when critiquing other’s work. I went from “I’ve got the answers, I am smart” to “You’ve got the answers, you are smart”.

It helps the other person grow and develop when you help them find the answer for themselves. This is how you become a mentor or coach: become a facilitator of learning.