Artistic Distance

by Paul Burton

13 Reader Comments

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  1. I am in the middle of my web design program at e college I attend and last semester took only graphic design courses. Maturing by simplifying, deducing, and cutting out all the unnessary elements from both my design and my process was what the quarter was centered around in learning.

    How I broke it down: The class’s later assignment had more iterative phases, spanning over 3 weeks usually. For these, after realizing that I had access to that professors years of experience and expertise on the matter, I concluded that I could make the most progress by coming in each week with an updated version of the assignment and explicitly saying “what is wrong with this?”
    The first time this happened, my professor seemed a little taken back with hearing a student being so straight forward with his intent. It took me a while and some more ‘straight talk’ to get this professor out of the mindset of being nice first but eventually established our teacher/student relationship as progressive and objectified. I made substantial headway in this class, which showed in the work I produced following the establishment of the more objectified relationship.

    Each time he gave me something that was wrong, I retained that criticism and used it as a foundation for my next version and for the basis for new projects I began that quarter. I didn’t really want to hear what was right, although he usually ended with that, I just needed to know how to refine it. Becuase being nice, in most cases, seems pointless for progress.

    Also, recently joining Dribbble for it’s content, I had no idea the reason what it was originally intent was before reading this reading this article.

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  2. I am reminded of design school, almost 10 years ago – we would always have critiques in every class, both individual (with the professor) and in with the full class.  It was in the latter where we honed most of our critical thinking skills.  “I like it” wasn’t good enough…  “Why do you like it? What’s successful about this piece?” the professor would ask.  And we learned: we learned to apply what we absorbed in class into our own pieces and our critical thinking.  It’s hard sometimes, dissecting your own work – but it needs to be done, and I’m thankful I was given the tools to do it.

    Having been in the workforce for almost a decade now, and going through a graduate degree in design (that further solidified this thought process) I can appreciate how the process enhances graphic design, interface design, ux, etc.  I only wish people I knew in other non-art related disciplines had this experience. 

    Great article!!

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  3. I am a practicing visual artist (painter) as well as being a web designer. I often use the techniques mentioned in this article while at my painting studio (turning work upside down, etc.) to get some “distance” from the work. I have not, however, been using this with my web work – but I think I will start doing this. The desaturation technique seems like it will work very well (and let us see the way color-blind people view our designs ;).

    Another trick I do in my painting studio is to position the painting I am working on so that I see it when I return – to see it abruptly, all of a sudden. This could perhaps work in a design context as well.

    - Mark.

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  4. I really loved reading this article. I, like Mark, am a painter and web designer, and incorporate many of these techniques in my art. I too will start looking at web design like this.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and insightful piece.

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  5. @dcharof
    Few students take the initiative you have taken with your own education. And your desire to improve will serve you well throughout your career. I would caution you to pay attention to the “good” commentary as well – Learning what works in a design is every bit as important as learning what doesn’t.

    MDixon, occhipij, @Kristin
    Thank you for your comments. I too sat through weekly critiques for the better part of six years through my undergrad and post grad studies. And the experience was absolutely critical to my development as a professional. 

    I can’t help but note that the only comments thus far have come from people who have had first-hand experience with techniques I’ve adapted from art school. Our industry is filled with designers and creative types who came by the profession from other disciplines and never experienced a knock-down-drag-out critique. Critical thinking isn’t innate. It’s learned. And that’s where process becomes important.

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  6. Despite its close relationship with high-tech, art of web design is rooted in the classic, old art.
    Create a new web resource – it’s like to write a picture, should come inspiration, that moment when you realize clearly how the web site should look.

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  7. Thanks for sharing this, I added a few thoughts to this from the perspective of a writer, and music critic – often asked to provide feedback on a work in progress.

    Would like to share my own article ‘Praise, Criticism, and Artistic Distance” http://icnt.mx/2012/03/praise-criticism-artistic-distance/

    Additionally one I wrote last year on “Haters” and objectivity that is also relevant to this discussion I think: http://icnt.mx/2010/09/haters-objectivity-and-criticism/

    Thanks for sharing this – was an excellent read and did my best to try and drive some people here to read what I’m glad you took the time to say!

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  8. “Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it, you are lost.” -Samuel Butler

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  9. thank you for this! I cannot agree more about the bit “Custom design requires “head” time…”  Even when you think a design is “finished” come back to it after turning it around in your head some more, and you will see something that could be improved or pushed further.

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  10. Good point that there is more critical review in arts education than many other majors. Considering your observation about feedback on Dribbble:

    To what extent do you think arts students learn how to give feedback through the weekly knock-down-drag-out sessions compared to experiencing the necessity to take it?

    Looking outside of graphic design:

    • What do you think of “heuristic evaluation”:http://www.useit.com/papers/heuristic/ as a way that people might learn on the job how to critique (usability of) Web sites?
    • Dave Methvin is an inspiring example to me of someone who gives detailed, objective evaluation when he replies to posts in the “Developing jQuery Core”:http://forum.jquery.com/developing-jquery-core forum.

    Paul, thank you for the vivid example. How did the falcon turn out?

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  11. Editor’s choice link for this issue, “Banishing your Inner Critic,” to compare and contrast with “Artistic Distance,” shows the kind of savvy that keeps readers coming back for more.

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  12. @mpedrotti
    The extent to which art students learn how to give feedback is entirely dependent on the quality of their instructor. I was very fortunate to have been mentored by some fantastic teachers who simply didn’t allow their students to give unsupported criticism or praise.

    In all my years of critiques, I can’t recall anyone ever breaking down into tears or throwing a hissy fit because their genius wasn’t shared by everyone in the room. It was never personal, only developmental. Sounds to good to be true, but we didn’t have Twitter to hide behind twenty years ago.

    Nielsen’s definitions for the “ten recommended heuristics for usable interface design” include a lot of basic design sense. And a healthy dollop of subjectivity. If you find them useful, use them.

    The Falcon? Twenty years later, I’m a much tougher critic.

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  13. Reading this as a designer (hopefully with an open mind), the logic behind the benefit of stepping away from your work is obvious.  Reading this as a creative director, my question would be:

    “How do I communicate to one of my designers that they are too close to their work?”

    In your story, you had the presence of mind to pick up on your professors hint/guidance… however not everyone is inherently capable of acknowledging their own short-sightedness.  Any tips?

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