‘It’s a matter of personal taste’ or how some people can’t handle criticism

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A bit about myself: I have started my first site in 2002 (my own domain name, hosting etc. Not blogspot or whatever free services there are, but the ‘right’ way, meaning I was the one to manage it entirely). It was a very difficult beginning, since I knew nothing about the ‘business’ and had to learn it all on my own. The site was ‘sporting’ a tedious black template from Front Page (some of you might remember it, I discovered Dreamweaver 2 years later) and I had zero knowledge about HTML and all this mambo-jumbo.

In few years, by spending at least 6-7 hours/day reading articles and tweaking, I got myself a solid foundation and was able to improve my skills and even get clients. I have never stopped learning the tricks of the trade and had countless clients and hundreds of designs created for them.

Over this decade I also got myself involved in many forums (I love running and being active in such communities) and tried my best to help others through my tutorials/articles and replies to their questions. Plus insightful advice and support in the reviews section.

criticism

There are many people who, based on my advice, improved their sites tremendously and solve some issues that would have hindered their progress. Of course, from time to time, there’s someone who expects only praise, when asking for criticism, and they start acting like spoiled brats, just because you don’t agree their site is the best in the world.

You asked for criticism, this doesn’t mean only praise

For many people the reviews section is either a place they can plug in their link (and it’s not considered spam) or a place they think will provide them only with praise and positive feedback. I’m some sort of a nitpicker, but am not such a maniac not to recognize a great design. I have seen some astounding work that made me ashamed of my own skills. There are people who are crazily talented and their work is so top-notch all I could write was ‘amazing job’.

But most of the time it’s not the case.

Even I make mistakes and mess up something, the feedback coming from the visitors will thus help me solve the issues. I had messed up the style sheet more than once and was thrilled to have someone tell me the site displays like crap on a certain browser or resolution. Or that it doesn’t display at all, because of a code error that I didn’t see (since my ‘cache’ was displaying the right design).

If you showcase a site, do get prepared to receive both praise (if it’s the case) and tips for improvement. If your design is sub-par, well, sorry, someone will tell you. And not to break your wings, but to HELP YOU make it better. If you’re smart about it and know how to swallow your hurt pride, you can really succeed with the site.

“It’s a matter of personal taste”

This is the reply I got weeks ago from a forum member whose site broke at least 4 usability recommendations. He was expecting us to fall on our backs with amazement, which didn’t happen. The site was stretching 100% on the display and it made reading the text a horrible tasks. One of the usability rules is to keep the content ‘stretch’ to a certain level, since the human eye cannot easily follow very long lines of text without a bigger effort.

What happens when reading is harder for your visitors? They don’t bother come back again, since at the end of the day they make you a favor by visiting the site, not you straining their eyes and causing them headaches. Imagine that I am using a 1600 pixels wide laptop (you’re probably using an even bigger resolution, especially if you’re on a big screen).  Now try to imagine (if you don’t already know) how ‘nice’ it is for me to read an almost 300 character line.

My recommendation was VERY easy to fix: enter the CSS of your wordpress installation and place max-width:980px in the ‘wrapper’ area, instead of 90% or whatever is there. What does this to? It makes the site stretch just 980 pixels as this blog does, no matter how wide the screen is. Sure, there’s left and right space left, but the eye focuses in the middle and it’s so easy to read the content, not to mention the entire design is clearly better organized.

Instead of doing 2 minutes of work, the member decided to diss my comment and ignore it, while also acting like an a… in the process.

See who’s giving you the criticism

As an experienced web designer, running a small business in this exact’ field’ and having an extensive experience in it, I’d say my advice shouldn’t be that bad. And it’s easy to see who I am and what I do for a living, just by clicking on my sites in the signature.

It’s like having me tell you that you need to lose weight, since you’re starting to get fat. Sure, you might tell me ‘it’s a matter of personal taste’ if you don’t care about my advice (as I’m not a doctor), but, if I was also a doctor and said ‘you should start losing some weight’, then maybe it’s not a personal taste issue anymore. Maybe being overweight/obese is already messing with your heart, getting you close to having diabetes and not seeing you child getting married.

There are people giving out advice who shouldn’t, but there are also professionals in your area whose advice is valuable and might help you a lot.

I do get some ideas from people who have no clue about design, the new trends etc. I had some tell me to add ‘animations’ and all kinds of stuff, since they’re bored seeing a minimalist design. Yes, animations were used in web design, but they were used 10 years ago. We don’t have animated gifs anymore and the current design trend is for minialist layouts, with good use of typography and less ‘bells & whistles’ as we used before. In this case, I thank them for the ideas and do as I know. But, if someone who’s in the business is telling me my choice of font sucks, well, I’ll clearly give it a second thought.

Others are paying for what you receive for free

The reviews section in the various webmaster forums (or even your blog, when someone is contacting you with ideas) are FREE INFORMATION. I have clients who are paying me to have this opinion and act according to it. My main client is running a powerful site and always trusted my instincts when it came to the project I’m hired to take care of. He never had room for any trace of pride, even if he’s been successful with his work and I’m the ‘help’.

If I told my client ‘this idea sucks’ (and of course gave him the reasons why I think it’s detrimental for our success), guess what, he trusted me and didn’t pursue the idea, because he knew that, even if he’s great with managing his project and being very successful with it, my opinions as his web designer and site admin matter. I’m paid to have an opinion, I’m experienced enough in my field and have kept up with the ‘trends’, not to mention my main goal is for him to succeed, since this means more work for me in the future.

So, before you go and bite someone’s head off for not agreeing that you run the coolest site on earth, think that you got free advice from someone who’s paid daily to have this kind of opinions. If you’re smart enough, you’ll take the free advice and make your site successful, if not, you can reply ‘nastily’ and no one will care.

I don’t dwell on this and clearly won’t track down the site to see if the advice I provided is being taken into account. Most of the time, when people do take my words seriously (fortunately quite often), they get back in the thread and update us on the progress, so that we can take another look.

My ‘cheeks’ are pretty thick after a decade of dealing with clients and various people online, so I don’t take it personally either. I just thought that it’s a good idea to remind us all that we should learn to deal with criticism, take the best out of it and be polite, even if we don’t agree. At the end of the day, someone took few minutes of their busy lives to help us get better.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Great points Ramona. I WISH there was more constructive criticism in my field of acting. You walk into a room, sing your song, they say “thank you”, you hear back from them a few days later or you don’t. I would much rather hear, “I don’t like that song choice for you” or “that doesn’t showcase you well” or “sing that for EVERY audition, it was brilliant” or “that outfit makes you look too young for the role”. Something. I know some people get offended as you’ve showcased here, and maybe that’s why they don’t do it. But I’d rather know so I can improve.

    • Yes, it would clearly help you do your performances better. The same idea with a web site. A constructive criticism should help people better their sites, take care of the possible bugs etc.

  2. When some people react negatively to criticisms, it only shows lack of maturity which unfortunately doesn’t always come with age. Reading this post today told me a lot about the maturity acquired through experience and you will surely go a long way, Ramona. I hope to be able to continue following you and witness you become really big. 😉

    • Well, I can understand it’s not nice to have someone tell you that your efforts are not 100% perfect.It annoys me too, but we do need to remain polite and maybe learn something in the process 😉

  3. I find how I deliver criticism is instrumental in how the receiver takes it. We’re a sensitive bunch (humans are, that is) and so that’s why the “sandwich” approach works – 2 good things on either side of the “constructive” piece. I love constructive criticism as it gives me an opportunity to improve.

    • Well, in that case even a mostly positive criticism with the idea that the site shouldn’t stretch like this, got me the reply ‘it’s a matter of personal taste’. Oh well 😉

  4. I’d agree with this. I’ve taken criticism for my blog layout and tried to tweak it so it made more sense (e.g. putting titles like “FRESHLY PRESSED” so they know they’re new posts)… or changing the background from a wood pattern to a neutral marble one to match.

    *shrug* All criticism is helpful.

  5. Totally agree Ramona!

    I’ve been working in web dev for nearly 10 years in the corporate world. You wouldn’t believe the unconstructive and abusive “criticism” we’ve received. However even if you engage with the rudest of people they normally have a point.

    I have learnt to remain calm about the manner in which it is put across and take what I can out of each email, hard to do sometimes of course.

    If you are putting across polite and constructive criticism and that person is still ignoring you then I get the feeling they are probably beyond help, and they certainly don’t deserve yours!

    (What on earth would they do if their site ever got remotely big and the trolls really came out to play!)

    • I have my own ‘no-bullshit’ rule: if you’re being abusive, I ignore, if you are respectful, then I’ll look into your criticism. I dislike people who can’t communicate in a nice manner, looks like you had your share of those 🙁

      • Yea there is a limit to it… if someone is consistently abusive then they deserve the silent treatment / get blocked somehow.

        I’ve got a pretty thick skin, and it helps to remember the abuse is not personal. Again easier said than done sometimes with the really obnoxious ones 🙂

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