First, being critical of something isn’t inherently negative. Having an ability to critique something thoughtfully and carefully are certainly very valuable skills to have in any environment. Great thinkers are able to evaluate ideas and the execution of these ideas for flaws which can sometimes push the creator to do better, and often to help the rest of us see some deeper beauty within the idea expressed.
Second, everyone is capable of creativity. We often only use the term ‘creativity’ to refer to painting, or music, or writing, or some other more traditional artistic endeavor. But what about the physicist who creates experiments to isolate radioactive isotopes, leading to the discovery of new elements and opening up the field of physics for others? Isn’t that creativity? How about the mathematician who creates an entirely new mathematics in order to figure out why the planets orbit in an ellipse? What about the business person who creates an industry based around what they see as a need in the world? So the problem isn’t that there is a clashing between people capable of creativity and people who aren’t.
The problem is people talking shit about shit they know shit about.
It’s a thin line, sure, but it’s becoming more obvious when people cross it and the problems that arise as a result. A very recent example given by Steven Soderbergh in his keynote at the San Francisco Film Festival: “I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one…” His example is one of having to work with studio executives whose job it is to maximize profit over creative integrity. Nearly as recently, Zach Braff expresses similar frustrations and took to finding a way around dealing with those same kinds of people by turning to Kickstarter and his fans.
In both of those cases, the problem is that these other parties provide input that takes the original creative vision in a direction that leads to a disjointed final product. It’s not that they are not creative. It’s not that they are stupid. Well, maybe not. It’s that they have spent their time and energy getting good at something wholly different than the area in which they are now a part of. And most of the time it doesn’t translate.
Months ago the poor, poor souls on the design team responsible for the UC Berkeley logo watched as their creation suffered every unkind word and emotion that humans are capable of. Over a logo. People absolutely lost their shit. Over a logo. The vast amount of noise being made were by people with no apparent understanding of the thought process or logic behind the work they were spending time blasting with the rest of the mob. In the world of creative projects, this whole reaction was a tragedy. Okay, fine,some of the responses were a bit of comedy. But really, I can only imagine what it must feel like to have your work beaten up that badly without much opportunity for a real discussion. There’s been much (better) said about this topic, this excellent piece and this podcast from 99% Invisible, in particular (which I think should be mandatory reading/listening for anyone about to take torches and pitchforks to social media or the comments section of a website.
There’s an immediate stifling of creativity when you’re in a room with other people and with each idea brought up, someone starts up with, “Yeah, but…” I’ve caught myself doing that one, and admittedly it’s a difficult behavior to squash. But as I learn more about what brings the best out in my own work, I notice that having each idea sliced up while it’s still coming out of my mouth doesn’t help creativity or morale. The other problem is feeling a need to preface each idea with, “Okay, I’m just throwing this out there…” in an attempt to soften the potential that everyone in the room will judge your idea, and by extension you, as stupid. It’s all only made worse when the people across the table (or on the internet) don’t understand the nature of the work or have any personal experience.
In the end, I realize that for the most part it’s just, like, their opinion, man, but sometimes these opinions come from the mouths of powerful people involved in the process. And sometimes these powerful people haven’t a clue about the topic they’re ruling over. And sometimes these opinions make it into the final product or change what the product might have been. As a relatively new developer/designer, I’m still learning to differentiate and to learn where to fight and where to give. How do other designers and people who create things deal with this? How do you ensure that criticism is taken seriously, while not immediately giving in to each screaming tweet?