Wrong Design?!

On our recent vacation to Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong we delighted in the awkwardly worded pseudo-english phrases on t-shirts, jackets, school notebooks, stationery. In fact my prize souveneirs are several school notebooks. One has a drawing of a telephone on the cover and this definition: 1. N-PLURAL: Communications are the systems and processes that are used to communicate or broadcast information, especially by means of electricity or radio waves.

Another has a weathered photo of a bag of peanuts and this saying:

Pleasure of life
It is time all day’s tiredness is relived and space is full of cozy relaxtion and a joy of my own.
The surroundings calm down in deep silence.
And I enjoy my own time.

I took this photo in Hong Kong. Surely the name must be a cruel joke. I showed this photo to a friend who suggested the Chinese characters might be roughly translated as “design king” or “king of designer”. If you can confirm this or know better, let me know.

When someone shouts “Wrong design!” or, “That won’t work!” or, “Your design stinks!” he’s being judgmental. My latest IEEE design column, Handling Design Criticism, talks about how to filter out constructive criticisms from noise…and what it takes to really get behind people’s judgments, puffy praise, and aesthetic arguments to discover the real issues.

As I was writing my column, it occurred to me that it is as important to be skilled at effectively giving criticism as it is taking it. I’ve gotten better at this over the years. No longer do I write scathing reports or repeatedly restate my objections until I wear everyone down. Maybe I’ve mellowed with age, but I think it’s more than that. I’ve learned to point out issues in ways that aren’t so confrontational and to pick my battles. Hey, if I ask you leading questions so that you come to the same conclusion as I did without a confrontation, we can both be happy! It’s not a sneaky tactic, really it’s not. I’m not perfect giving constructive advice and I’d like to get even better. So I’m polling friends, family, and seeing how they manage to point out design flaws without waging battles or making enemies. If you have found clever ways to offer constructive design advice, drop me a line. I’d love to hear your story.