Constructive Criticism

As I have not worked in manufacturing or an industry where I produce tangible physical products, most of what I have ‘delivered’ in my day-job for the last 15 years has been a service or a presentation or written report. In managing staff who have (usually) provided their own services, I have often been in a binary situation where something is right or wrong; an application is either behaving as expected or it isn’t. So when a user can’t log in to a system or a financial transaction has gone through but nothing arrives in a client’s account, it is very clear what our end result should be.

Getting used to how it works in the games industry while interacting with our artists and sculptors has taken some time. I’ve been looking for the best way to offer constructive feedback to people who provide a physical finished product. There are rarely objective rights and wrongs when it comes to art or design and so all of our discussions have been discussing small, incremental changes to reach a goal that is not at all explicit, being as it lives in the heads of Simon and myself.

We have been incredibly lucky that the talent of all our collaborators is so obvious and the quality of their work so fantastic. Their skills seem almost alien to me, the ability to create drawings and models with such great detail and character, simply from the descriptions and feedback that we provide over email and instant message. It has sometimes been difficult for me to tell them when I’d like things changing. I feel like I, with my utter inability to draw, paint or sculpt, should have no right to question these hugely talented artists. I worry that suggesting changes is insulting their skills.

Thankfully, all of our collaborators are very secure in their own abilities and more than happy to engage in active discussions on the direction of their work. They have been extremely receptive during the conversations about the modifications and changes of directions that we have requested of them. This has made my job very easy and confirmed our opinion that it is worth paying for the best, most professional collaborators. Not only is the standard of their work high, but interacting with them is a pleasure and the process of design very much a collaborative effort.

It also makes me realise how sometimes products come to market that are less than stellar. They might not simply be a case of bad or lazy design; there may have been less experienced people involved or corners cut on materials. Perhaps the brief wasn’t clear or maybe people were simply too polite when it came to offering criticism, and they held their tongue when they should have pushed back. Either way, I hope I know what to do if I experience one of these tricky situations but my preference would be to keep hiring the best people so that I never have to.

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