A designer’s guide to positive criticism
Difficult conversations don’t come naturally to me. I was brought up in Minnesota by my Irish Catholic mother who taught me to be polite, never criticize, condemn, or complain.
However, the ability to provide and receive substantive criticism—early and often—is an essential skill of a design manager. As the director of design at Flexport, this became evident to me when the percentage of my time managing people surpassed 50%.
In a quest to improve my ability to provide critical feedback, I developed a framework. It comprises four quadrants divided by the polls of positivity/negativity and vapid/substantive feedback.
Both negativity and positivity are infectious. Negativity, in its extreme, can cause destruction. However, negativity coupled with substantive feedback is often needed when something is off track. Critical feedback can be a turning point for a failing design, process, etc.
Sometimes people find pleasure in tearing things down. It often serves as a way to develop group norms. However, the end of this road is lonely as negativity pushes people away. Everyone falls into negative feedback from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you realize it and drive towards a positive outcome.