How to Re-Direct Harsh Feedback as an Architecture Student
Previously on the blog, I’ve talked about Dealing With Design Tutors who may not always be on the same page as you, or even What to do After a Tutorial or Crit to help stay focused on the road ahead. But this post is more about re-directing harsh feedback you recieve either in a crit, pin-up or even during weekly tutorials. The reason why this is so important is because harsh feedback (or what you think is harsh) can really throw you off and the actions you take after will most likely impact you in the long run. Instead of just throwing your hands in the air and getting upset with the criticism you’ve been given, it can actually benefit you to take a second look. Sometimes you might just need some distance from your own work to give you a clearer perspective.
Hopefully any criticism or harsh feedback you face is a one-off situation which we’ll come back to later, but if it isn’t, there may be something larger that you need to address. How exactly can you make this criticism your best friend? Some may say the solution is having a glass-half full mentality and take everything with a pinch of salt. But sometimes that’s just not good enough. Let’s say you’ve worked on your project for the week and you go into your tutorial feeling quite confident but are then met with looks of confusion and disappointment as well as a hefty to-do list for next time. We’ve all been there at some point because it is extremely rare for a project to be consistently perfect and it has to go through its high and lows at some point. One response would be to go full panic mode and turn up those thoughts in your head that tell you your work just isn’t good enough - I’ve been there. Maybe it’s down to how much we expect from ourselves rather than what others truly think of us and our abilities. But it’s not a great feeling. If you think you’re headed down this path, the best thing in my opinion would be to disconnect from the project for a while. Instead of repeating the comments and criticism over and over in your head, take some time to just forget about your work.
Doing this will help you approach the feedback in a much calmer state and prevent you from getting too upset or angry about it. The next step is to think about the key points your tutors may have identified as weak or poor. List these out so that you can tackle them one by one. Don’t assume that whatever they have said is correct though. At the end of the day it is your project, and believe me, making decisions to please tutors will only result in work that you’re not really proud of. If you’re not enjoying the work you’re creating then what is the point in the first place? So before you start thinking of solutions or alternatives, question whether what they have critiqued is really so bad. I do this by envisioning how the project could look if it stuck with my current idea. Does it have the scope to evolve and grow? Does it fit within the narrative? Is there something about it that can be improved (regardless of what the tutors may have suggested).
Then, and most importantly, you have to listen to your gut. Sometimes you might just know that there is something off, or not up to scratch about it. In which case, it might not even be all bad but could actually use a second round of iteration. Sometimes the worst ideas might just be incomplete. Keeping the narrative and the ambitions for the project in mind at all times helps with eliminating the weak points amongst a bunch of harsh feedback. If you’re certain that there is nothing wrong with your current idea, stick with it and stand your ground. Doing this can be quite daunting but you just have to back yourself. Try the ‘why’ exercise. Ask yourself questions about the design elements until you have broken it down to the basic level. This will help you gauge whether your idea is justfiable. If it makes sense to you, then re-direct that harsh feedback and turn it into a positive or even the silver lining of your project. There may be something interesting about it that you could choose to highlight. Don’t eliminate ideas at the first hurdle.
Another thing to think about, something that my friends and I tell each other is, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll only do yourself a disservice by stressing or catastrophising over something that in reality isn’t that serious. The whole purpose of the weekly studio is to keep improving and building something that shows your skills, creative thinking and perseverence.
Ever thought about which state you work best in? Is it when you’re completely focused and zen about your project, is it when you are feeling fresh first thing in the morning, or is it when you feel like you’ve got something to prove and you’re in a slightly off mood? I think your output often depends on what kind of mood you’re in and how much energy you have. Finding that sweet spot where you have enough focus and are in a creative mood can be a little difficult. But the truth is that you can’t always have the perfect ‘work mood’. Which is why I think it’s a better idea to just accept how much you can truly get done depending on your mood. Sometimes if I get angry or annoyed about something, I use that ‘anger’ or emotive state to just write. Sure it isn’t always perfect, but it means I can just channel my energy into something that could benefit me or something that will help me release that anger I suppose. This might not be healthy, but I do know a couple of people who also feel that they work better when they’re not in the best mood. Obviously don’t set yourself up for that kind of situation, but instead just be easy on yourself and understand that you won’t always have the capacity to work at 100% and even 40% is totally fine.
If you get some harsh feedback or your tutorial doesn’t go as planned, it can sometimes make us feel like nothing is on track, we’re falling behind in comparison to the rest of our peers and everything is falling apart. In reality, this is most often not the case. One setback doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Plus, who even says that failing at something is bad? Failing can just put you one step closer to finding success. On the flip side, if you’re feeling energetic and happy, don’t forget to do something fun for yourself too. I think many architecture students end up losing sight of the bigger picture which - FYI - is not architecture. There’s more to life than this degree and yes it might come across as slightly higher than thou but I think we shouldn’t compromise on our mental health or other areas of our lives. Sure your work will take precedence at times but don’t let it be a constant thing.
Keep it Simple
If there’s one advice I would have given to myself in undergraduate it would be to keep it simple. The reason I don’t really like model making or why I feel like my sketches are never up to scratch is because I put way too much pressure on myself and nothing is ever ‘good enough’ in my eyes. I’ve noticed this with creatives in general, since we each have a bit of a perfectionist inside of us. But I guess part of that disappointment comes from the internal expectations we have of ourselves and the standards we aim for.
Whether its a design project or a thesis, I think the key to keeping it simple and making things easier for yourself is to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes and then doing that one thing extra, putting in the extra effort for some part of it that can push you over the line to get that higher mark or a higher quality of work. So when you get harsh feedback, try not to fall into the trap of panicking and trying to do 100 different things to please your tutors. I’ve been there, I’ve worked hard for days on end and when it came to the tutorial, I realised with the work in front of my eyes that it wasn’t up to scratch. It was half-done, irrelevant to what they had asked of me and I know I could have done 3 or 4 things perfectly instead of 9 or 10 poorly.
After any kind of tutorial, I try to re-direct my energy into planning. This might seem a bit lazy or a waste of time but it helps me get the clarity I need to move forward. If you’re able to record conversations with your tutors, listening back on it might help to see things from a new perspective because it can be super tricky to actually focus on the feedback whilst you’re also trying to explain your work.
Lastly, try to be a little strict with yourself. Sometimes you have to set boundaries for the work you’re doing and there has to be a point where you need to stop and move on to the next thing because otherwise you’ll spend way too long just obsessing over something that might not even be as important as the rest. I call these kinds of tasks filler tasks which are best done under a timer. Obviously, creativity knows no time and can spring on your whenever but this gives it a bit of an edge and may help you to make sure you spend longer on the stuff that matters.
Don’t fret, don’t think of it as the end of everything and most of all, take each day as a new one. That’s it. Re-directing that negative energy into something positive won’t be easy or quick, but it is doable and will put you in a much lighter mindset that can give you the momentum you need to crack on and go ahead with the rest of your tasks. Good luck!