Three tips for effectively critiquing creativity

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Creativity is less about critique and more about creation. You should never mix the two.

However, there comes a point with any creative work where there has to be a critique in some form. The critique will come either by yourself, from peers, or from customers or audience. Sometimes you’ll be invited to critique other’s creative work as well, of course.

It becomes critically important to know how to critique well. If you can effectively critique your own ideas or work in a constructive way, you’ll end up feeling empowered and driven, with more insights into what to do than what not to do. If you can critique other’s work with equal prowess, you’ll learn about yourself and your style from the critique, as well as become the go-to person for feedback in the future (expanding your personal network).

Learning to critique well is just as much of an art as the art work itself. It requires both skill and practice. But here are three tips to serve as a starting point:

1. Know when the right time for critique is

For some ideas, a critique is vital in the first few stages, after the idea has come about and just begun to develop. For others, it’s only after an idea has reached a more concrete, completed phase that it can effectively be evaluated.

The right time for a critique depends entirely on the context.

If, for example, you’re about to critique the results of your own brainstorming session, it’s likely better to wait until as many ideas are already out in the open as possible before critiquing them; otherwise you stand in the way of possible ideas making themselves known.

This makes sense, as the creation mindset is very different from the critiquing mindset; one requires free-roaming thoughts and a certain openness to what comes as a result, while the other relies on pre-existing concepts for evaluation and comparison. It’s surprisingly difficult to move from one to the other and then back again.

Likewise, if you’re evaluating another person’s work it’s important to know where they’re at with it before you begin evaluation. Do they feel as though the work is entirely complete and ready for a full critique? Or are they feeling stuck on a certain element and hoping your opinion can help them see something they otherwise wouldn’t see? In which case the critique you give should not be a full critique of the work, but solely of where the creator is currently at with it.

The company 42floors refers to this approach as Thirty Percent Feedback, and it’s very well worth exploring.

Before critiquing any work, first identify what the concrete goal of the critique is. Outline where in the process of creation you are. Only then can you consider beginning an effective critique.

2. Be constructive, not opinionated

Avoid using words like good and bad, or phrases like “I like that” when critiquing.

When you avoid these words, your critique becomes centered on the concrete reasons behind whyyour reaction to the idea or work is what it is. It’s those reasons that can be further explored and – most importantly ” acted on.

For example, If I looked at a project and stated: “I don’t like the colors,” that’s not a critique. Such a statement is simply unhelpful criticism. On the other hand, if I explicitly say something like: “The colors look overly muted and that makes me feel like they conflict with the message you’re trying to convey in the work” then suddenly there’s a starting point for discussion and exploration in the work. It’s clear from that statement what needs to be either discussed or acted on next.

When evaluating ideas it’s crucial to do the same. Our gut reaction to something (whether we like it or not) is certainly worth noting, but don’t merely cross ideas off a list because your first reaction is that they’re no good. Instead, take that feeling (of an idea being good or bad) and ask yourself why you feel that way, what is it about the idea that makes you not like it?

3. Invite critiques from your community

The purpose of a critique is often to see aspects of your work or ideas that you couldn’t see yourself.

Presenting the work for critique from a larger community of trusted peers (when the work is ready, of course) is the quickest way to get outside perspective. It’s from those outside perspectives that we learn and grow.

Finding a community that understands these fundamentals to critiquing is just as important as opening yourself up to the critique.

Fortunately quality communities exist and criticisms can be sorted through virtually. Sites like Behance, Quora, even Tumblr and Twitter are all worthwhile for inviting critiques.

No matter where you’re at with your work, a time for critique will come. Ensure you’re prepared.

Photo by Kevin Dooley.