This guy is really bad at answering questions directly. His answers are so stilted and roundabout that the interviewer has to reword his questions and summarize his points for him. If he were really brave he would be direct, candid and stand behind his positions.
Instead, he strikes me as a pretentious pseudo-intellectual trying to be controversial for controversy's sake. I don't give a fuck if he's critical or pejorative in his writing. If you have thin skin, you shouldn't be a designer. But if you're critical and you don't even sound natural and authentic in what you're saying that's when you lose credibility. There's no way I'm going to allow a phony guy tell me how I should design.
Agreed fully. The article was a good read, but it felt a lot like watching someone read a thesaurus to seem more educated in design principles, Eli of course is very well educated in this area. However pseudo-intellectual is a great word for it.
I love reading design critiques to learn new opinions or ideas about design. But I have never learned something from one of his articles (though I admit I don't read them regularly).
Maybe I am not part of his target audience... but presenting a problem, and then a solution to that problem is how people learn. But posting a 3 part essay on how shite something is doesn't help anyone.
But thats just my opinion.
I would counter that people do not have to present solutions in order to illustrate a problem.
That is true. But as Jim stated, it wouldn't be constructive.
However, calling a design bad without explaining what they would do differently is not so helpful most of the time. the stereotypical dribbble comment "love the colors" doesn't provide any insight into why they like them, or why the colors work. equally, posting a long comment on how poorly designed something is, without saying what needs to be done to fix it doesn't give much insight into their mental process.
In the case of Eli, most of his arguments against design come from his background as a skeuomorphic designer. context is important, because it helps me see where he is coming from and why he would dislike a design.
But, I did somewhat over generalize. A solution does not always need to be presented, but in most cases criticism without solution doesn't help. IMO
I would counter that people do not have to present solutions in order to illustrate a problem.
well that's not constructive then, is it?
Personally, I learned a lot more about Eli's position from this interview than from most of his articles and I have to say I sympathize with the foundation of his arguments: modernism (and under that umbrella, modernist design) has it's own history, biases and weakness, and those that claim that it does not, that it is a universal solution, are misleading themselves. The issue for me arises in the way he defends his position in his articles, which I would not call critiques in the academic sense of the word, but rather combative attacks. Looking at some of his listed influences in the interview, I'm not really surprised by this, given that guys like Christopher Hitchens et al. are not really known to promote things like dialogue or amicable debate.
Be glad I use the language I do. It’s rare to find this sort of honest polemic elsewhere given the incestuousness of the design community.
Oouuff. He's got a point there. So many designers seek the "awesome work" pat on the back when they could be doing better work. I've been guilty of this.
I believe designers truly don't like criticism (in general) while we all say we welcome it. What we do welcome is praise as it is natural, positive and serves us. Criticism can bring doubt, labor and disagreement.
While I found the overall interview really insightful, this was a super lame way to end it. People grow from insightful, constructive criticism, and not from attacks. "Honesty" does not make an attack any better.
Sometimes. Depending on the level. Telling someone starting out
"hey maybe you should focus on your hierarchy a bit more here. And think about using a grid. Your colours could do with more contrast"
Would have them think they're not too far from the finish line. Which can lull them into a false sense of security. "hey that was a nice critique session. I'm doing real good. I just need to tweak it"
"Honestly, it's shit. You need to scrap it and start again. Focus on x, y and z"
The latter is a hard pill to swallow. I used to get feedback like that starting out and it always did more good than bad. It can help drive home that you don't have a clue…yet. It has to come from the right place though. It really has to be shit. You do get those who flippantly give feedback like that when it's actually not necessary. So there's a balance in the delivery.
If it's shit, it's shit. Why not be honest about it? Yes you will feel bad. Boo hoo. Go and get better. I used to dread getting feedback from my harshest critics. But each time it got better and better. That's how you learn.
Also, the room full of "head nodders" telling you your work is great/fantastic/super awesome probably don't give a shit about it. Rocking the boat is just not worth it for them.
Agree. I also got a ton of direct, harsh feedback starting out that I really appreciated, from people way more talented than me. And that's great, as long as it's valid and has the "Focus on x, y and z" part that's actually helpful. To me, Eli just has the harshness without the helpfulness. And I just find that one-sidedness useless.
To be honest though, this isn't just a design industry problem. Society as a whole seems to have developed an unhealthy jumpiness to any form of strongly opinionated criticism.
Parents are frowned on if they say "no" to their toddlers too often and get accused of heavy-handedness. University students are mollycoddled and given 'safe-spaces' to run to when confronted with ideas that oppose their own and therefore offend them. And as adults we tend to accuse each other of intolerance or bigotry at the first hint of someone veering away from the status quo. As long as we have such thin skins, strongly-worded opinions like Eli's will always be unpalatable.
We need to get comfortable with questioning the status quo again, even if it makes us uncomfortable, because it's by questioning that we grow.
I don't know if you can lump in "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings", which came about as a reaction (overreaction?) to centuries-old bias and discrimination, with being mean about Instagram's latest icon…
For me the worst feedback people can provide to my works is "it looks awesome!" Because there's no action after that
i'm all for direct and honest critique, but he's confusing honesty with hyperbole. i mean, the guy did a 3-part series entitled "Instagram's Abomination." you can be forceful without being offensive; i don't think he gets that.
This is a really fantastic interview. It's a shame that a brief interview made stronger arguments and clearer explanations than a half dozen berserk-mode essays.
Eli, if you wrote in this style as a default, I'd be eager to read anything you published. It's not that I have an issue with negativity or with pointed, even harsh(!) criticism. It's that your mode of delivery truly does diminish and obscure your point. You're a talented writer. I wish I could read more of what you have to say instead of what you have to throw a verbal temper tantrum over.
FWIW this proves that there's a sweet spot between Dribbble circlejerkiness and doomsday language. We have enough "the sky is falling" being yelled at us through the TV as it is.
Fully agreed. When I read a design critique (on someone else's work) I want to learn something about design in general. It helps me see what I have done wrong in the past.
But with (most of) Eli's articles I don't come away learning anything, I come away feeling like I need to produce skeuomorphic designs to please Eli.
I disagree with Eli that criticism needs to be harsh. You don't need to sandwich compliments or beat around the bush either. But hyperbolic rants about how horrible something is, without explaining a solution, doesn't help anyone.
Is it me, or is his discourse very trumpian?
"I’ll be more direct: there’s a sense that generally your critiques are focused on negativity and pejorative evaluations and less on substance."
"It’s true, some people don’t have the stomach for my style."
"Be glad I use the language I do."
All in all its a good piece. Khoi did a great job to mediate opinions voiced around the community as well as reinforce the discussion around the subject of critique and it's packaging.
Eli did show what he wants to accomplish and what his goals are. For me, looks like he uses the appearance of substance, inflammatory subversion and golden-ageism as a philosophical elevated debate.
Again, judgment =! criticism =! critique
I think you've nailed it right here. I'm disappointed because until now I really had the sense there was more there there. The parts you quote were perfect opportunities for Schiff to say "I'm not being negative for no reason; I honestly believe there are better choices for designers to make, and I want to be direct about the reasons why these trends are making things worse." But instead they came off as braggadocio, and the peculiar idea that no one else is bold enough to say a design sucks -- which, as he points out, armchair critics do all the time. I don't think it builds his credibility to compare what he does to the chatter of random people leaving a movie.
I really appreciated the interview, though. It puts Schiff's writing in clearer perspective for me, even if it might not be the perspective he'd hoped to communicate.
Hi everyone—I've been heads down all day and I'm only catching up on this thread now. Thanks for all of the thoughts on this interview. It was tough one but worthwhile. I do think Eli has something valuable to contribute, but at the same time I'm sympathetic to some of the less generous appraisals of his work. As I prepped it for posting I realized it's probably not going to change a lot of people's minds about his work; if you liked him before you probably still do, and if you don't then you probably still don't. Anyway, if nothing else, I think this thread here on DN has been really constructive. If I can answer any questions on the interview, please let me know.
Thanks for the interview, Khoi. After I read it, I read the post you linked in the intro (https://www.subtraction.com/2016/06/24/questions-to-ask-yourself-when-reading-about-design/) and loved it. I'd urgently recommend it to anyone who cares about the topics we're discussing here.
My issue with Eli's writing style isn't only that his critique is packaged aggressively, but also because he veers outside of design critique and targets individual designers with personal attacks.
I disagree! Show me where has he made his critiques personal rather than about the work itself! Show me name calling or personal insults in his articles.
I believe its ok to critique the design process that created something alongside a design, but the kind of behavior you're describing I have not seen in his writing at all.
Personal attack on me #1: https://twitter.com/sortino/status/712533955904413697
Personal attack #2: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ovylrxnm16wdru3/Eli%20Schiff.jpg?dl=0
Regardless of his points, there is no reason to insult someone publicly in such an unwarranted manner. I really want to like Eli's writing. I think he has many good points. It often feels like an award-winning journalist who is writing in the format of a tabloid.
Edit: And now he is upset about me shedding light on the subject https://www.dropbox.com/s/ugmys6g0v1837i2/IMG_0112.PNG?dl=0
Edit 2: He has now deleted his previous Tweet. How is this journalism?
I do not understand how the industry can support this conduct.
Who's a journalist?
Certainly not the most mature behavior, but I do separate what someone does on twitter from their writing. Can you tell me any examples of personal attacks from what he's written in blog articles?
How can you separate the two? It's his writing either way. Should we just all give a pass to whatever politicians tweet then?
Its pretty simple. I follow Eli's blog, not his twitter. Twitter's more personal, a blog is more professional. Someone can be an asshole in person, but create work that is valuable, and their personality doesn't necessarily remove value from their work.
I'm not electing Eli to run aspects of the government. I'm reading his articles to hear thoughtful opinions about design.
"Show me attack!"
"No, not those attacks. Show me other ones!"
"This person's work contains vitriolic, personal insults!"
"No it doesn't"
"Well, he's tweeted mean things to me"
"How does that degrade his work?"
I understand why you feel attacked, I know it doesn't feel good to have someone attacking what you say publicly like this. But it's not true that Eli insulted you. He criticised and mocked your post, the content of what you said, not who you are. And this is an important distinction.
Could he have said it in a more sensitive way? Absolutely. Can you said he's a bit of an arsehole for mocking you rather than engage you in a more friendly way? I certainly would. But that in itself doesn't make his critique any less true or relevant.
That being said, the critique he leverages against what you said is absolute garbage.
I was insulted. What he said was insulting. (Read the bottom of the screenshot above.)
That was the first tweet he ever sent me. If that's not insulting, I don't know what is.
P.S. Mocking someone (in the manner which he did) is a form of an insult.
Edit: To clarify, if he wanted to argue against my points, I would not feel insulted at all! But Eli's critiques were intertwined with personal attacks.
bingo. much of his writing is riddled with cheap attempts to lash out randomly at prominent designers, assumably to gain the notoriety that he now has.
a great example is his attack on Cap Watkins where Eli chose to quote individual words from Cap's post "The Boring Designer" to strip all context and utterly misrepresent cap's writing:
This move towards the design engineer has excited designers like Cap Watkins and 3000 of his supporters who advocate for an ideal "lazy" and "boring" designer who never experiments and "Chooses obvious over clever every time." A perfect designer who compromises their vision to fit what is easiest to produce, not what is best to produce. Most of all, as a manager, Watkins reveres supplicatory designers who "rarely stand their ground."
this isn't critique, it's vitriol. and it has no place here.
He has often taken my points out of context on Twitter.
That's not vitriol. Its strongly worded, but vitriol is more like "this designer is disgusting, a horrible person who should not exist." What you've pulled from the article there is a strongly worded interpretation that you strongly disagree with, not a series of personal attacks. Even if you don't agree in the slightest, he's still discussing substance not lashing out with personal attacks. There is a difference.
if libel isn't a personal attack, i don't know what is.
How is it libel? Libel is a legal term that means "a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation." Honestly! The quoted section above is not even close to a personal attack.
Do people just run down the list of tangentially related synonyms for "insult" until they find a word that they think makes their opponent look villainous?
The excerpt intentionally misrepresents the quoted author's words to depict him in a negative connotation. That is the textbook definition of libel, which you very helpfully Googled and paste it here.
The whole attacking someone's work while bragging about his ability to do so is certainly reminiscent, and not something that adds to the process, for me.
Being harsh alone isn't that helpful. I've worked as a lecturer as well as my time in industry, particularly with students just starting out, I've encountered some pretty terrible work, and as others have said, there's no point in making them think 'it's nearly there' when it's a million miles away, but standing there and going on a Trumpesque rant, 'This is shit, and I'm great at telling people they're shit' doesn't seem like it's intended to help the designer, it's the critiquer inflating their own ego.
Constructive criticism is so valuable, and so rare in our world of 'awesome work! Please look at mine' social networks. You can still be critical, honest and be constructive at the same time.
Being known for saying things are shit isn't exactly a hard thing to do, nor is it helping to improve anything beyond the infamy of the person doing that.
Do you sincerely believe Eli's arguments stoop to the level of Donald Trump's?
Unlike Mr. Trump, Eli makes coherent arguments, does not attack people for irrelevant qualities such as their physical appearance, usually explains the “why” (in this case, why he believes a design is poor), and is a decent human being.