By Tobias van Schneider Published October 23, 2020
Too often, I feel fired up about a subject and think: I’m going to do something about this. I sit down to write and find, 10 minutes later, hundreds of words on the page with barely a line break.
I’ve done it, I think. I really cracked the case on this one.
I come back later and realize what I wrote reads like a fever dream: Wild, baseless claims. Tenuous or nonexistent threads of thought. Rambling ideas that lead nowhere.
Or maybe the writing’s fine. Maybe I’ve really driven my point home, illuminated the issue, but offered zero solution. I’ve essentially just complained, thrown a wet blanket on my readers and walked away.
Criticism is easy. It’s not hard to see flaws, point out oversights, call someone out, find errors, denounce trends or dismiss the value of something. Any idiot can do it – just look at Twitter. It’s not so easy to rant and provide coherent, thoughtful reasoning for your criticism. It’s even more difficult to offer a solution.
Rants have their place, and I take pleasure in writing them when it seems fitting. But when I do so, I try to ask myself these questions to see if I’m actually offering any value to the people who may read it.
Am I qualified to criticize this?
A food critic makes a career of understanding the nuances of flavor or the history of regional cuisine. They’ve studied the subject intensively, maybe even practiced it, and exposed themselves to the best and the worst in order to provide an educated opinion. They are qualified to criticize, and they provide a service to their readers in doing so.
If you’ve experienced the thing you’re ranting about first-hand or have some sort of authority in the space, perhaps your rant is warranted. Maybe you can offer constructive criticism that stirs your community to action.
Or maybe not. As a designer, I may feel qualified to critique another designer’s work, or some design trend, or some product that doesn’t live up to my standards. That doesn’t necessarily mean I should. Read on.
Am I offering any kind of solution?
If I’m fed up enough with something to go on a tirade about it, it’s likely I feel (rather self-righteously) that I have a better idea for how to do it. After all, if I don’t see the potential for things to be better, why am I so upset about it?
If I’m going to complain about something, I aim to propose a better way. Otherwise, I’m just annoying.
"I wrote mostly positive reviews. I don't write about places that don't interest me." Jonathan Gold
Have I done my research?
If I make an impassioned stand about something, only for someone else to immediately point out the obvious holes in my argument, it’s going to be pretty embarrassing. It also discredits any authority or trust I might have had before.
It’s assumed you didn’t contribute to the system you’re ranting about, or work on the project you’re criticizing, or attend the meeting where a decision was made. Which means you don’t have context. It’s possible the thing that makes no sense to you only seems senseless because you don’t have all the information. Before you complain about it, find all the information you can. Only then can you reason your stance thoughtfully and productively.
Is my opinion adding anything new or helpful?
Nothing is more tired than Twitter pile-ons in which designers criticize some brand’s new logo or redesign. For one, what is your critique going to do? It’s already done. Second, you’re one of 1,000 other people saying the same thing. That can be useful to enact change, but there are plenty more important causes to pile onto than some company’s logo.
Think about what result you expect from this rant. Are you offering a new perspective or shedding light on the subject? Or are you just going to fire people up for no useful reason?
Am I just being mean, spiteful or negative for no reason?
Negativity is the last thing we need more of in the world. If you’re just writing out of pure anger or spite, or just because you can, or because it feels good to hate on someone from behind the protection of your laptop screen, reconsider.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!