How to be a good critic

Critics get a bad rap. “It’s easy to criticize.” “Everyone’s a critic!” Or that old refrain – “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That may be true in many areas of life, but it is not the right approach to getting good results from a creative team.

The creative process requires criticism. Writers, designers and other creative people cannot work in a vacuum – actually, we can, but the results will not likely be on strategy. No matter how much they complain about the idiots in accounts or on the client side, creative people of every ilk need direction to make sure their work is on the money. In the agency world, this is called input, feedback or simply, direction.

However, there is a right way and a wrong way to provide constructive criticism. Tom Fishburne aka the Marketoonist‘s cartoon series about bad critics is bang on. During my years in the agency world, as well as a few on the client side, I have personally experienced almost every version of these comic approaches to creative criticism.

In a nutshell, here are a few helpful do’s and don’ts to make sure your input is heard and understood:

1. Do be clear about your objectives.Objectives

Strategic direction is the one thing the creative team can’t do without. We are not steering the ship. You are. We need to know where you want us to go, what you wish to achieve. We’ll take care of the rest.


2. Don’t rely on personal opinions.Subjective

Knowing that you, along with any of your relatives or pets, personally like or dislike a piece of creative work is not particularly helpful to the person who created it. One person’s subjective opinion, even if they are the client, does not tell us what we are doing right or wrong.

  Your input should help the creative team to understand what is or is not working.

3. Don’t try to say too much.Blender

You cannot be all things to all people. It is a mistake to even try. We know your marketing department spent three weeks working on that strategy document, but all of the customer benefits you identified during your off-site meeting will not all fit in the ad copy. Trust me.


4. Please don’t try to do our job.Micro Manager

As a writer, I probably don’t need your advice on where to put commas or better structure my message flow according to your high school English teacher. Where I do need criticism is if the words I’ve written are not getting the message across, if their meaning is elusive or if I am saying the wrong things to the wrong people. And the art director really is doing you a favour by not using your layout idea.

5. Do have the courage of your convictions.Waffler

Better yet, have the courage of our convictions. Don’t try to please everyone in the room by taking the headline from layout A and the visuals from layout B. Pick a direction and stick to it. The only thing that should oscillate is a fan.



All cartoons used by permission.

Any thoughts on how criticism has helped or hindered you in your work? We’d love to hear from you!


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