Let’s start with a brand design rule: critique is essential. It is necessary for each individual piece of work and, equally, we see it as necessary for our development. We have to be able to take (and give) constructive analysis of our brand design work or risk it underperforming. Any designer, or agency, that wants to grow and develop needs to have a process in place that allows for in-house and external evaluation.


We embrace evaluation here at Hello Starling, but think it’s worth noting that not every critique will have the same value. Experience has taught us that there are ways of giving and receiving feedback that can increase the chance of a constructive outcome. Here are our ground rules:


  • There is no objective right or wrong when it comes to brand design. Both creators and critics need to keep this truth in mind when they approach an evaluation. Take a step back (not always easy when sweat, blood and tears are involved) and accept that your own view of a design is never the universal view.


  • Just because we’ve trained and worked as designers for longer than we care to remember, we aren’t the holders of the keys to good taste, nor do we have a unique ability to measure effective design. Other experiences are available, and the approaches they bring to bear to a design are often just as valid as ours.


  • Sometimes a criticism is justified, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be acted on. It might be that the target is too vital to the design, that there isn’t a simple resolution or that fixing it creates a separate issue. Whatever the reason, accepting that a critique can be disregarded or resolved (and still valid), makes it easier for all criticisms to be aired in a constructive environment.


  • There has to be an agreement, on all sides, on the goals of the design and the needs of the users. Shared intentions creates a common base, no matter how disparate the views of those involved, and allow for communication based on those shared starting points. Without a common purpose, evaluation can be open to misinterpretation and end up a far more difficult process than it need be.


  • Focusing on goals also helps create (as far as is possible) an air of objectivity around any critique. Saying, ‘I don’t like this’, without reference to the goal isn’t constructive and, unnecessarily, makes the evaluation personal. 


  • The most constructive critiques are possible with high levels of trust between the designer and evaluators. They share goals, give credit to the knowledge and experience of the other parties involved and understand the limits of their own understanding. Effective critical discourse usually involves a little humility on all sides.


  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the simple fact that everyone involved needs time and space. Listening carefully means you’ll be able to thoughtfully respond and (bonus points) will indicate to the other parties that you respect their position – a key step toward negotiating a shared conclusion of any critique.


Feedback doesn’t sting when it’s given with the due care and respect outlined above, and facilitating conversation makes it easier for all of us to be happier and more engaged with the end product.


By Oliver Brown