We’re working on a public platform wherein everything we publish is open to be talked about, picked apart, and quantified by any number of external interactions. From Appreciations, Shares, Reposts, and everything in between, we’re able to directly come into contact with the work of others in an entirely new way. And while the majority of these interactions are scripted (click to Like), it’s in the Comments that we’re able to break off the tracks and offer a more extemporaneous approach.
Just how you choose to utilize the commentary section of any piece is completely up to you, but I think we can all agree that the value of your input is anything but a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Browse any of the major outlets for creative publishing and you’re sure to find varied discourse taking place that ranges anywhere from invaluable to utterly useless.
But among the most unproductive of all forms of feedback could be the knee-jerk dismissal: Those short, punchy jabs at someone’s work that offer nothing in the way of meaningful, worthwhile critique. Instead, they seem to pride themselves on their outright refusal of admiration.
There are likely a number of reasons these have a tendency to crop up, but personal disassociation could be a compelling factor. It's easy to identify someone by their work alone and create a one-dimensional view of them as an individual. We boil down their whole being to a series of pixels and points and offer our two-cents with little regard for them as a sensing, breathing, feeling person. In this way, we view all work as something to be merely consumed, digested and spat out; built only for a viewing pleasure (or, perhaps more notably, our displeasure). It’s easy to remove the “human” element from a conversation that only exists online; never having to come face to face with the individual on the other side of the screen.
If you find something that doesn’t quite meet your particular fancy online, consider not having to fire off your discord in a show of grievous displeasure if you have no recommendation for betterment. Offering commentary devoid of encouragement or the opportunity to teach does little more than beat your own chest in a show of personal taste superiority. It’s beneficial for neither the creator or yourself.
It’s no more than hip-fire; a gut reaction that oftentimes hinges on personal preference. And while gut reactions can be great for food, they're less so for professional feedback.
Consider an alternative: Offer a thoughtful critique wherein you might suggest a course of action that could enrich the work.
If you have the time to type out your distaste for a given body of work, perhaps you could also find a spare moment to offer a suggestion on how the creator could improve his or her craft. Prescribing actionable, thoughtful critique is sure to take more cognitive process, but it’s worth far more than posting a punchy declaration of disharmony.
If you don’t have anything useful to say other than that you don’t care for a given piece, consider the fact that you needn’t say anything. Others don’t need to know you were there. You’re not signing someone’s yearbook. Sometimes it’s okay to leave through the back door without letting everyone else know you weren’t impressed and making a big show of it all. Sometimes, you can just walk away. Simple as that.
If you do, however, decide to give feedback, here are a few things to consider:
Offer critique; not condemnation
There’s absolutely room to talk about what you don’t like. Feel free to share what’s off-putting or feels out of place, but try your best to offer solutions in place of inflammatory statements. If you don’t have an alternative but know that something seems to be missing the mark, feel free to just tell him or her that you don’t know the solution yourself. It shows that you’re just as puzzled as they are, but you’ve given your response the thought it deserves before satisfying a shallow gut reaction.
Also, refrain from any critique that’s personal in nature. If you disagree with a certain choice, keep that in the context of the work you’re evaluating. This isn’t the time or the place to lambast the person on the other side of the screen.
Add to the conversation, not to the noise
If you’re willing to give actionable feedback, you’re entering into a two-way conversation rather than a one-way diatribe. Getting coffee with someone is more fruitful than verbally attacking someone from the sidelines. Starting a dialogue will go a long way in allowing the other person know they’re worth your time, not just worth your commentary.
Before posting, maybe ask yourself if you’d say this to another person face-to-face; without the cloak of anonymity or distance that the digital medium provides. Impart wisdom, don't incite a riot.
Remember that intent and tone are masked in the text medium
Work towards the clarity of your position; leaving little room for deviation in your intent. Maybe even read your feedback aloud to yourself. How does it come off? Is there any way the creator could read this as scathing or condescending? When words are all you have, word choice is essential.
Take a look at the recent comments or tweets you’ve been making online from time to time. They could be a great summation of the way others are perceiving you. Are you the kind of person who's spending your time complaining or tearing others’ works down? Or are you the kind of person who’s investing in other peoples’ lives—encouraging them in their craft and giving of yourself without expecting anything in return?
Is this a lot of work? Not going to lie here: It sure is. But so is community. And that’s exactly what we’re all taking part in. The question isn’t so much if we’ll take part, it’s more about what the nature of this relationship will look like for us and—just as important—for everyone else.
Consider being the designer you wish you could’ve met.