Avoiding Self-Deprecation in Design Critiques

Undervaluing your work will hurt more than it will shield you

will chul-min scharlott
Modus
Published in
5 min readMay 21, 2019

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Images courtesy of the author

Presenting your design work is an opportunity to share and convince an audience of the rigor of your thinking and the application of your ideas. Whether it’s informal, with team members gathered around your desk, or formal, with company executives around a polished conference table, a presentation is your time to take center stage and share your thinking.

Too often, designers will begin their presentation by saying something like:

  • “I just threw these slides together. Sorry in advance if they aren’t ready.”
  • “These are just my thoughts, and they’re not very good.”
  • “I wasn’t sure about what to do, so I don’t know if these are right.”

There’s a time and place for self-deprecation—belittling or undervaluing yourself in a way that’s excessively modest—and design critique isn’t that place. Saying these kinds of phrases can be tempting; they break the ice and help relieve nerves before presenting designs you’ve been tirelessly working on. At the same time, these statements devalue your work before you show it, biasing your audience to have low expectations.

Self-deprecation can quickly turn into a habitual defense mechanism. If used too frequently, it can eventually hinder your ability to receive tough critiques and prevent people from giving you their honest, unbiased opinions.

Self-deprecation shields you from tough critiques

All designers need a continuous stream of tough feedback throughout an iterative design process. Leaving a critique thinking, “Everyone loved that. I don’t need to work on anything,” likely indicates that your critiques aren’t being facilitated to yield strong feedback or your feedback givers aren’t openly sharing their thoughts. Within a healthy environment of sharing, your feedback givers can help you identify problem areas to invest your time.

By proclaiming a version of “this isn’t good” before you present, you create a shield between yourself and your incoming feedback. You’re drawing a line in the sand for the feedback you’re willing to receive: “I already know…

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