October 10, 2006

Class Critique

About a month ago I found a referrer to my site coming from the blog of an Interactive Media class at Michigan State University. I noticed that one of the class assignments is to critique a given website every week, and lo and behold, my site was slated for the chopping block during the first week of October (previous sites they’ve critiqued include Juxt Interactive and smallTransport). I set a reminder for myself to check back to see just what they had to say, and man, it’s just wonderful.

Let me first say, I have no desire to knock on the students’ opinions or the direction their professor has taken them; I actually find this fascinating. It makes me remember what I was like during my time at college, and for better or worse, I was very much of the same mind as some of the more standoffish students. They aren’t regular readers, so I certainly can’t fault them for being offended by a few things, but I found these critiques to be enlightening. It’s rare that you get feedback like this from people who are becoming designers and are still pure and untouched by the real world of clients and deadlines. They have a different perspective on things than I do, and design definitely means something different to them right now. I may be teaching a class at a local university in the near future, so I’ll also chalk this up to a bit of research for me too. Also, yes, I realize some (not all) of the grammar and writing is less than coherent, but chalk it up to inexperience. I know I was a dreadful writer when I was in college, and have only gotten better through practice and keeping this blog.

On to the critiques! Like all critiques, you have to wade through many opinions and egos to see if there is real meat or not. And these students have caught me dead-to-rights on a couple counts. Unfortunately, the critique time fell just after I posted my latest October Edition, though I doubt the normal version of the site would yield different criticisms. There were some 40 odd total critique posts, but I’m just going to highlight a few excerpts that caught my eye.

General Thoughts and My “Humor”

Over the last two weeks, I’ve seen two style sheets applied to this site and even though it is not up now - I MUST complain about the first one.

The October 2004/2005 Edition featured a thin sidebar image on the left side of the page. My problem with it was that the vertical lettering on the image was cut off on the left side. At first, I thought maybe my browser window was too small for the page, so I spent a moment resizing my window to try and get the whole thing. Well, it turns out that’s just how it was made. I really didn’t like this because I found it distracting and deceiving. Otherwise, the design was pretty interesting.[…]

[…]My second problem with this design is the placement of dirt specs on the background image. I thought there was dirt on my screen - I actually tried to wipe it off.

excerpt from Julie’s critique

I did not like the Jason Santa Maria website because it bored me. I did not want to read through all his nonsense and still have no clue about what he was talking about.[…]

[…]Overall, the Jason Santa Maria website did not appeal to me because of it’s dullness and overwhelming amount of content that I found uninteresting.

excerpt from Jessica’s critique

Even after navigating throughout the various links, there is little to indicate that Jason Santa Maria actually has something to provide to the world of graphic design… that is, other than his opinions.

excerpt from Steen’s critique

These responses made me smile because I can completely remember being in this mindset. As though when something doesn’t resonate with you in a design, the designer committing a personal offense. I had a very similar chip on my shoulder back then. I won’t fault the students for their opinions, but I do hope that over time they come to the realization that design isn’t just about pictures. I do love the thought of someone trying to wipe the dirt off their screen.

The About Page

I did not, however, like the way he approaches his text regarding his clients. By this I mean he acts like a teenager on LSD talking about his cats, his dreams to join the circus, and his liking for candy. I think he has portrayed himself as a totally irresponsible, immature photographer. If I was a client reading this I would quickly dismiss his prospects of receiving our work.

excerpt from Ryan’s critique

Also, I would NOT hire a professional with this sentience “Jason enjoys loud music and subsequent ass-shaking.”

excerpt from Blair’s critique

I found myself annoyed at how funny this designer thought he was. This guy really thinks he is entertaining people with his mindless banter.

excerpt from Tyler’s critique

It’s unfortunate that the first one (Ryan) thinks I’m a photographer and not a designer (sorry photographers!), but this is among a few posts that out me as being immature on my About page. My rationale is of course: this is my personal site, so I’m letting some of my personality show through. I actually like that this will dissuade some potential clients. It serves nicely as a sort off prescreening opportunity for me. If you think I’m immature, or potentially on LSD, there’s probably a decent chance we wouldn’t make a good match anyway.

My Portfolio

Seriously. His portfolio is nonexistent. Is Jason Santa Maria an unconfident designer? If so, what is his definition of a “comfortable body of work”? This is very unorthodox. I have never been to a designer’s homepage and not found samples of their work. I guess I’m speechless, and at awe that a designer cannot provide even a link to his work. Lame.

excerpt from Steen’s critique

He says it’s blank because he hasn’t compiled enough new material. Well what about old material? If you’re an artist looking to get hired you really need something in your portfolio.

excerpt from Benjamin’s critique

They absolutely have me on this one. My public portfolio has been down for far too long. Perhaps I had convinced myself that I was being more aloof by making people contact me. It’s a shame because I have always enjoyed maintaining a public body of work. Unfortunately, skipping around from a few agencies a couple years back, resulted in more than one cease-and-desist letter regarding the display of the work I completed while under their employ. Rather than just put up the one or so website I had permission to show, I decided to just wait until I had a large enough body of work I was allowed to show before taking it back online. Well, now I do have enough work, and I’ve let the priority slip since the work hasn’t stopped coming in. But, the students are dead on, and I plan on getting my portfolio back online as soon as I can.

My Photography

Nice layout, but the photos are lame. He should get fired for posting those small sized photos especially beside his portfolio menu which is under construction.

excerpt from Jimin’s critique

One thing I could say I didn’t like about the site was the way he arranged his photo’s. It was interesting but when I first got on the page, I had no idea how to click from one photo to the next. The little boxes at the top were easy enough to navigate once I figured out what they were for however

excerpt from Shannon’s critique

Damn! They’ve got me again (though, I hope I don’t get fired for my photography). My Photography section hasn’t been updated in ages, and the interface is really getting long in the tooth. I touched on this a while back, being on the fence with updating my Flash module or moving everything to Flickr. To be honest, I still haven’t decided, and that’s what’s been keeping me from updating. Maybe I am just hoping that if I wait a little longer, Todd will figure out a good way to make SlideShowPro display vertically oriented photos without scaling the photo down. The jury is still out on this one, though, I will likely just cave in to Flickr.

It’s Not All Bad

I know I highlighted a lot of the more critical posts, but there were quite a few favorable ones as well. Something I always try to remind myself of is that I should never close myself off to criticisms, and that I can always learn from someone else’s thoughts and works (yes, even students and people younger than me). I am far from perfect and constantly trying to better myself as a designer. It would be foolish to think I have everything figured out.

Appropriateness in design is something I only really began to understand well after graduation. When I was in school, I often designed many things because I could, without regard for clients or usability. Ah bliss! And it’s only as I’ve matured as a designer that I’ve learned the virtues of restraint in design, rather than striving for the fleeting whiz bang factor. I remember when first learning some of the ways to properly give a critique finding myself being overly critical to the point of being scathing. It seemed when someone asked me to critique a piece, something in me equated that to “find as much wrong with the piece as possible”. Over time I got better at it, learning both by giving and receiving critiques, and seeing first hand how they can help shape and refine a piece of work.

Finally, I would like to thank the class for their time and their critiques!


The professor for the class mentioned above has posted about my write up on the class blog. Of course, I’m in no way trying to reprimand anyone here, but it is an interesting point of the connectivity of these things.

Commentary (71):

1. Steve says… oct 10, 2006 | 2:49 pm

I’m a ‘Steen’ fan… Great critique and great job being a good sport Jason! They’re a harsh class. Ouch.

“I found myself annoyed at how funny this designer thought he was. This guy really thinks he is entertaining people with his mindless banter.”

2. Jina Bolton says… oct 10, 2006 | 2:53 pm

As someone who is fresh out of college and in the professional realm, it’s funny knowing where I was and where I am going.

The first critique you posted had me actually giggling. Nice.

3. Chris Griffin says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:03 pm

Designers have the biggest egos short of rockstar / movie star status. The funny thing is the ego is there from the beginning before we even make a name for ourself. I guess it comes with the territory.

Nice to see you took the high road, I would have had a stronge urge to rip on some of these students who left some of these off-base comments just because it would be like shooting a fish in a barrell. I’m so evil…muhahaha

4. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:08 pm

Chris Griffin: Well, that’s just it, they probably know what they want to say, but not how to convey it. It just makes me remember what I was like in school, thinking that I had to act the part of the designer, shooting holes into other designers’ work. Clearly, I was just a snot-nosed kid, and somewhere along the line I learned better.

5. Dan Mall says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:10 pm

What an entertaining post! Being fresh off the “school” boat, it brings back memories of… a couple months ago.

Seriously though, I do hope that the first couple of students that you mentioned learn to lose that “real clients don’t like casual attitudes” naïveté. You’re very kind in describing them as pure and untouched by the real world of clients and deadlines, but the fact that design is problem solving is a valuable lesson to learn, especially early on.

6. bearskinrug says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:11 pm

You know… I USED to like this site. But there’s some compelling arguments here. You should turn it into something eye-catching and relevant, like an anime sketch forum.

7. brian warren says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:14 pm

Man, that was funny. Personally, i would want to hire a professional who “enjoys loud music and subsequent ass-shaking,” but hey, I guess that’s just me.

8. Mike Rundle says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:14 pm

Wow! These kids scalded you, I’m glad you’ve got a thick skin because after reading this stuff it’d probably get my mind in a knot for a few hours.

I hope some of the students pop back here and read these comments, because I have some words of advice that they don’t teach you in college:

* The goal in life is not to please potential clients. Yes, they pay you, but there are other ways you can make money without resorting to demeaning and insulting work courtesy a shitty client. Some designers have to take all clients that come across their path, but good designers get enough inquiries that they can pick and choose based on whatever criteria they want. A cryptic About page and lack of portfolio works to scare away people who (for some odd reason) don’t already know who Jason is or what Happy Cog is, etc. etc.

* Design is important but designers shouldn’t act self-important. Snooty, self-centric designers with one view of how a layout should look won’t get very far in the industry. Consulting projects are always a compromise, and the better you are at dealing with that, the further you’ll go and the more respected you’ll be.

* Analyzing a designer’s work without an inside knowledge of the project’s goals is a near-fruitless effort. You can critique poor execution, but you can’t critique choices that were made just because you don’t know why they wre made. I don’t know why Jason’s work always reminds me of a beautiful printed book, but it doesn’t matter because he constantly executes it perfectly. If his faux book on the left side wasn’t executed properly (mis-aligned typography, odd weathering, wrong colors/shading, etc.) then pointing that out is fine, but don’t knock the concept just because you don’t “get it” even though it looks badass.

* Regardless of what your professors teach you, people swear in the real world and in the business world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the f-bomb in emails or dropped in phone conferences with clients, investors, companies, executives, anybody. People tend to trust “real people” more than fake stuffy corporate talk anyway.

9. Nick Whitmoyer says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:17 pm

This is a great post Jason! The dirt specs comment is priceless. Have you thought of a “Hall of Fame” category for your posts? …because this one deserves to be in it :-)

10. Nate K says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:26 pm

Very humorous to say the least. Im seriously trying to wipe this dirt off my screen - but it won’t move. Maybe she should try glass cleaner or something. That one definitely have me laughing.

And, though I am not a designer - I am a web developer - and I had the same thought process when I was in college. There comes a point, in the real world, where you learn how to really assess things in general (people, work, art, etc) - and you can understand completely.

I think for the most part, it’s nice to have the critique - but it is so taken out of context as many are not your regular visitors or readers.

No matter what, it is a learning experience for them - and they will always have this post to come back to and laugh at some of their ignorance.

11. Chris Griffin says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:32 pm


Design Jedi Master you are with such wisdom and modesty. Still much to learn, Chris has.

12. Dave Simon says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:34 pm


Your site sucks and everyone calls you by a name that is not your own. Who is this “Stan” guy?

I don’t get it.

Please put up blinking unicorn graphics and use more Comic Sans. Perhaps some sort of animation of an envelope doing backflips, so I know how to contact you.

Then you’ll be a real designer.

I actually thought I had spilled tea on the upper right portion of my browser window. You have some nerve tricking me like that.

And definitely, you should rewrite the “about” copy to reflect that you don’t like to have fun and you are really boring. You’ll definitely get more work that way. Maybe a picture of you in a suit and tie.

Myspace completely pwns this site. Gawsh.

13. Joshua Blount says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:35 pm

I’m so impressed with how you took that criticism. They were extremely harsh and not only did you take it in stride, you posted the harshest ones to your blog! Good show friend.

14. Colly says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:47 pm

I managed to get the offending dirt off my screen with a generous blast of caustic soda. Good job the comment form is on the left.

Enjoyed reading this one, Jason. How few of us have online folios to back up our drivel? Students (who, let us remember are better than we are and know everything) must be aghast at our mindless disregard for professionalism. Hell, I’m gonna pour that caustic soda on me! I’m a bad man. We’re all bad! It burns…

15. J Phill says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:50 pm

It’s a little humorous to see them be so harsh. It’s like they comment off of pure emotion.

I must say that I was there about a year and a half ago (also at Michigan State), though not as harsh, but I had the definition of design a little wrong. It made me critique what “looked good” rather than what was good design.

It’s amazing how much you learn within a year once you get into the real world!

16. Dave Gregory says… oct 10, 2006 | 3:59 pm

I really love your website.
I also agree that the two relevant complaints are warranted, but beyond that… I do not think the students would have been so judgemental if they knew you would be reading their critiques. ;)
I read in another weblog just lately, that design basics are tough in college but your real design education starts AFTER college. I definately get that feeling after reading some of the fairly sophmoric critiques.

17. Jonathan E says… oct 10, 2006 | 4:20 pm

Jason, I’m also impressed with how you’ve handled all of this. After skimming through a lot of the reviews it seems like there are more positive critiques of your site than the negatives, and for that you should take at least some pride.

I like how you’re being open and honest about all the negative reviews, and even explaining some of your reasoning behind the issues in question.

I’m also very much in agreement with this comment that Mike made:

Analyzing a designer’s work without an inside knowledge of the project’s goals is a near-fruitless effort.

Keep up all the great work, and hopefully we’ll see a new portfolio soon!

18. Tom says… oct 10, 2006 | 4:34 pm


Props for taking the high road. I wouldn’t have, but despite what we’ve read from these burgeoning design scholars, you are a more seasoned professional than I would be in that regard.

In another life, I was a design instructor for a small community college. It was a learning experience for me, and most of the students utterly lacked the polish that these kids managed to show in their comments (for the most part). That fact notwithstanding, their instructor should penalize them for not RTFA as it were, because some of them had zero clue what was up.

Anyone who visits this site on even a limited basis (it’s called the archive) is familiar with the voice that you write in and the humor with which you live life (meeting you and Rob at the Philly AEA only reinforced that view). It saddens me to see people in college with such large sticks up their asses. Geez. Not to mention the ego…

To the students: Who the eff do you guys think you are, anyway? Go bong a beer and lighten up. There’s plenty of seriousness to be had later on in life. Oh, if you’re actually listening, read up on your Stan and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about design and life. He’s a frickin’ role model, people!!!

19. Joel says… oct 10, 2006 | 4:40 pm

I think often times students are told to “critique” something and immediately take it to mean “criticize” something. I know I did when I was in school. They feel they aren’t doing a good job unless the rip whatever it is apart to show how good their “critical eye” is. We can learn just as much from things by focusing on the positive as the negative, as trite as that sounds.

Those who take the time to see both the good and the bad are the ones who will end up learning the most. Those who simply bash (especially on a personal level!) are probably gaining absolutely nothing from the experience.

20. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 10, 2006 | 4:43 pm

Tom: Thanks for the kind words, but come on, let’s keep it civil for the students. The point here is that they are students and therefore, still learning. They will get better at writing, they will get better at expressing themselves, and they will grow to understand design more intimately. So, keep it clean for their sake (I’m pretty sure they didn’t realize I would write back to them :D).

Joel: Exactly!

21. Tom says… oct 10, 2006 | 5:15 pm

It was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than malicious… Now I feel bad.

22. Darren Ansley says… oct 10, 2006 | 5:15 pm

I found the following comment particularly amusing.

[…]Overall, the Jason Santa Maria website did not appeal to me because of it’s dullness and overwhelming amount of content that I found uninteresting.

It’s funny because I’ve always thought that the design and presentation of the content is what makes your site so appealing.

23. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 10, 2006 | 5:29 pm

Tom: nah, don’t feel bad :D

It’s a tough line to walk, as evidenced by the student critiques—I’m sure some of them thought they were being constructive, I know I always thought I was.

24. Peter Santa Maria says… oct 10, 2006 | 6:25 pm

I’ll tell ya, you were WAY too nice to those kids Jason. You will indeed make a good teacher, as you have much more patience than most people.

The thing that annoys me the most is that not one of those kids had any ideas of their own on how to make your site better, they only saw the negative…

25. paulo says… oct 10, 2006 | 6:30 pm

This post was great! It’s a kick in the ass to see how much one grows post graduation.

This post also shows some of the frustrations I have interviewing younger designers. Spunk and energy is great but get an damn internship before you graduate! ;-)

When you teach your class *please* get your students to realize the importance of real-world experience in addition to their shiny new piece of paper. I am seeing more and more kids who just come out of school expecting a job without any sort of real freelance work or internship on their resumè.

26. Mark says… oct 10, 2006 | 7:16 pm

Hey Jason, really well done. You constantly inspire me to think differently about this profession. And I think demonstrating professionalism, gives you the leeway to be friendly and charismatic (and genuine) on your About page. I’ve taught college level Design, and I think that’s a point missed by a lot of instructors.

Joel makes a really great point too. It’s why focus groups are generally flawed. Get nine people in a room and ask for their opinion, and they feel deputized to find something wrong. I think it’s the Brand Gap that says focus groups are meant to focus the research, not be the research.

27. paul says… oct 10, 2006 | 9:11 pm

I actually found this all a bit unsettling. It makes me a little sad at how quickly people (especially young people. whipper-snappers!) will jump at a chance to say nasty things when offered the opportunity. I’m sure that if I followed the link to the class site and read more of the critiques I would find many pleasant and/or productive comments regarding your lovely site, but I don’t dare click for fear of discovering the even more pointed and pointless posts that you may have filtered out.

Like my Mother always said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, go tell it to your Father and leave me out of it; I have a headache.

28. Blake Haswell says… oct 10, 2006 | 10:38 pm

You know, I’m suprised that soon-to-be designers aren’t already reading sites like these on their own.

I think looking at web designers personal sites is a great way to learn when you’re just moving into design — they are typically awesome designs, and the content is good on occasion, too.


29. Brian H says… oct 10, 2006 | 10:53 pm

It is possible for you to use slideshow
pro to display vertical images. So long as you keep the images the same height and lose the gallery or blend it in to the background.

Check out my photos to see what I mean

30. N. E. Miller says… oct 10, 2006 | 11:06 pm

This was a great post, Jason. I recently graduated from Michigan State University and you are right to have patience with the students. Way to put forth a positive example.

Unfortunately, the university (and likely many others) offers almost no options for studying web design beyond generic survey-style courses. Most students are given little-to-no instruction in design theory, and very few ever get the chance to hear from a professional like yourself. I do hope you get into teaching some courses, because I’m confident you would be a phenomenal instructor. I know I’d sign up for the course.

As a side note, being that this is my first time posting on your site, I love the October theme. Being a literature student and total bibliophile, it was all I could do not to hack your site design for my own!

(I’m kidding of course.)

31. Philip Pond says… oct 11, 2006 | 3:01 am

And despite all these narrow-viewed judgements, I’m sure you are your toughest critic in the end.

I must say, Jason, that this is (selfishly) a very comforting post. There are many of out here that aspire to your talent and insight. And to see these sort of critisms on some of your work might let us take some of ours a little more lightly. :-)

32. Andy budd says… oct 11, 2006 | 4:52 am

The yoof of today. No respect for their elders and betters. I say we go round and trash their MySpace pages :-)

33. Rian Orie says… oct 11, 2006 | 5:30 am

I suppose that they have been skipping class too much to understand exactly who Jason is.. particulairy the lesson where they got on the topic of Jason Santa Maria and how he defines design ;)

It’s so easy to grab a website and just start yelling it sucks.. and save for the two obvious comments Jason pointed out, they seem to all be of personal preference.

Lets hope the few that got a grasp on what this site is about will return and learn from the grand master himself!

34. Mike Hickman says… oct 11, 2006 | 7:14 am

I have to say I’m impressed with how well you’ve taken the critiques. I am a graduate of Michigan State, actually of the program which includes the class which has given you such harsh critiques. In a small defense of the class, there is definitely a mentality of when “critique” is heard, it instantly means tear something down. There are rarely any opportunities to hear from a professional outside of the university environment, which provides a very narrow view of the world of design.

It’s a problem with a lot of the “interactive design” programs in the academic world right now; a lot of software taught, but not a lot of theory. And we wonder how the tools, Flash especially, are misused so much.

I must say I’ve always enjoyed your writing. Really, who doesn’t enjoy loud music and subsequent ass-shaking?

35. John Nick says… oct 11, 2006 | 8:25 am

I agree with the first student. ANYTIME Jason Santa Maria sullies my screen I attempt (usually unsuccessfully) to wipe off the screen.


(Damn these useless Amway products!)

36. John Nick says… oct 11, 2006 | 8:34 am

But seriously …

While I was pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing, there was this one girl who always ended up in my fiction workshops who was STUPID.

Every comment she had about anyone’s story was IDIOTIC, and it drove me NUTS!!!

I hated having her in my workshops and cursed my bad luck.

Then one day I had the following epiphany: “Hey, if she has the power to make me THIS angry, something must be up.”

So I started letting go of my outrage and started really listening to her.

No, she wasn’t cluing in to my veiled references to Derrida and Lacan. But what she WAS offering was the insight a NORMAL reader would have.

When she said something like, “Your character wears the same sweatshirt as that girl on Saved By The Bell,” my initial thought was, “You dummy.”

THEN, in my enlightened openness, I realized, “WHOA! I’m glad she caught that. I’d hate for readers to think I was channelling SbtB!”

That’s a random and less-than-perfect example, but let me tell you: every bit of criticism she had was GOLDEN.

You hear about certain authors being “a writer’s writer.” She was a writer’s non-writer, and every writer needs one.

And what happened to this young woman? Perhaps you know her as Joyce Carol Oates!

Okay, I’m lying.

But she DID go on to win a huge national award for one of her own stories. And then she dropped off the face of the earth. Maybe she’s saving med students now.

37. Kirk says… oct 11, 2006 | 9:23 am

If nothing else - you’ve just found yourself a killer tag line for this site:

Jason Santa Maria:
Like a teenager on LSD talking about his cats

38. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 11, 2006 | 9:34 am

Brian H: I know SlideShowPro can display vertical images, but not without downsizing them to the height of the horizontal display. If I am going to show photos that way, I would much rather the vertical ones be the same size as the horizontal ones. My photo viewer on this site, while far from perfect, does this pretty well. It would be a cool option to have in SSP, though I imagine it would be more difficult than the drop-into-a-page simplicity it has now.

Kirk: Man, I should hire that guy :D

39. Joshua Kendall says… oct 11, 2006 | 10:03 am
I think often times students are told to “critique” something and immediately take it to mean “criticize” something.”

That’s been my experience so far at the design school I am attending. The critiques rarely offer anything positive or garner useful suggestions on how to better the design.

By this I mean he acts like a teenager on LSD talking about his cats, his dreams to join the circus, and his liking for candy.”

Odd, reading about your cats, circus dreams, and affinity for candy just lets me know you are a real person.

I found myself annoyed at how funny this designer thought he was. This guy really thinks he is entertaining people with his mindless banter.”

I find you funny, if you were not funny, then your posts would just be boring.

Remember this you are far funnier than Inman. :)

40. Jesse C. says… oct 11, 2006 | 11:17 am

Reminds me of these critiques :)

41. Kristian Walker says… oct 11, 2006 | 11:52 am

I’m having flashbacks to my days as a college web design prof. I had your usual crappy crit experience in art school, with the exception of one teacher, who made every crit worthwhile and thought provoking. I tried to lecture my own students in his technique before we had out first wall-staring experience. Results were - meh…

This also reminds me of the “deleteme” group on Flickr that started crtitiquing a Henri-Cartier-Bresson photo that was posted anonymously.

Fun post and to jump on the bandwagon-kudos for keeping a good attitude.

42. Corby Simpson says… oct 11, 2006 | 11:54 am

After being in the industry for 5+ years, it’s nice to see designers who do their share of ass-shaking!

Based on the number of template designs I see out there, I was afraid that all designers sit in front of their computers and designs interfaces day in and day out without venturing out into the real world. I now love portfolio sites that go beyond the “digital world” and privide character and personality!

43. Dan Boland says… oct 11, 2006 | 12:23 pm

It’s good that you view the critiques as a blessing despite a lot of negativity. It’s hard to get completely unbiased feedback like that, as unfounded as some of it may be.

I, for one, think this site serves as a damn good example of what you’re capable of, so while I can understand the “where the hell is the portfolio?” critique, I think when a site is built this solid and pretty, a list of other work isn’t necessarily essential.

Besides, just link to A List Apart. Between ALA and this, what more would someone need to see? =)

44. Luis Escorial says… oct 11, 2006 | 1:41 pm

Jason, I was very impressed with the way you handled all the critiques.
Although I’ve been working as a designer for many years, I hadn’t realized until today that there is a maturity I haven’t been able to reach yet.

Let’s say I am one of those very-sensitive designers that feel their work is part of their personality and hurts me bad when I receive unfounded critiques. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first one to listen to constructive criticism, but the rants for the sake of being destructive or the ones without knowledge… well they are just plain painful.

Reading your posting was an incredible light into my professional career, and a masterful example for my personal life. I love your site and I can see how much you know about the profession, and I am sure the new students will see this in the future.

P.D: I used to work at Juxt Interactive as an Art Director so I guess the critiques directed to them touched a bit closer to home.


45. Ivar says… oct 11, 2006 | 2:25 pm

I liked your article, you seem to take the critique they way it should be taken, as a persons different point of view, even though you never asked to be criticized. However most all commenter’s here seems to put a lot of effort into criticizing the students that negatively critiqued your site.

Apparently the person who assigned this class assignment found your site interesting, or bad (latter not likely) enough that they wanted the students to see it and to have them critique it.

Being critiqued isn’t always easy, specially when not asking for it. Good critique is nice, but it doesn’t always help you a lot in making things better. Even though you didn’t ask for it, I think that some of those students critiques are meant to be contractive. Constructive critique however harsh, should be taken as an opportunity to improve the subject or design being criticized. At the same token, there is no doubt that some criticizers just spew out things they hope will hurt or hit the soft spot… maybe just because they never have or will be able to create something on the same level.

46. Chris Lee says… oct 11, 2006 | 4:27 pm


You should come visit Michigan State. I think our AIGA student groups here would love to hear you speak.

I think I had to do that assignment a few semesters ago; critique your website.

I apologize on behalf of my fellow collegues here at Michigan State. I hope they didn’t offend you too much.

47. Phil says… oct 11, 2006 | 4:39 pm

What a perfect site to critique- you end up giving the critique a critique! The prof gets and A for choosing your site.

48. Ethan Watrall says… oct 11, 2006 | 5:09 pm

I love the web. Why do I love the web? Well, it allowed me to find this post/thread. Why is that important? Well, I’m the professor for the class. Yup, I gave them the assignment, and therefor take some of the responsability for what my student’s said.

Let me put the assignment into context a little bit - I assigned 5 websites that the students had to critique during the course of the semester (I think they are up to critique #3). The assignment was to visit the site in question, and critique it…not criticize it. I wanted students to apply some of the concepts of design that we are covering in class. Did they like the site? Why did they like the site? Did they hate the site? Why? I really wanted students to think about design concepts in a concerete way - and design critiques are one way of doing that.

I would argue that even though many of the snippets you’ve featured here are critical, there are many students who loved your site and had great things to say about it. I love the site, I think its one of the coolest things out there…thats one of the reasons I chose to feature it.

To those took this thread as an opportunity to critique web design classes…I assure you that you have absolutley no clue what kinds of issues are involved with teaching a class like this. What do you teach…how do you teach it…what level of student do you teach to…what are the program requirements or constraints. You also have to realize that how you teach such a class is going to depend on the type of program in which the class is embedded. Our program is not a design program (though we do teach principles of design), it isn’t an art program, and it isn’t a cs program. As a result, we’ve got an amazingly wide variety of students with a wide variety of backgrounds…all of whom you need to teach to.

To those people who were insulting to my students :

To the students: Who the eff do you guys think you are, anyway? Go bong a beer and lighten up. There’s plenty of seriousness to be had later on in life. Oh, if you’re actually listening, read up on your Stan and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about design and life. He’s a frickin’ role model, people!!!

Come on! This was a learning exercise. Most of the students had very valid points…as Jason has already said. The anonymity of the environment (I bet most of my setudents would have never thought that their critiques would have ended up on the actual designer’s website) sure as hell caused them to be a little short on their manners. However, your comment was just down right insulting.

To Jason I’d like to say that I hope you found the criticism constructive - and haven’t taken too much offense. I would really like to invite you to post the above thoughts on the course website. It would be absolutely awesome to give you an apportuntiy to to some of my student’s constructive criticism. It would also be an abject lesson in the connectivity of the web - most notably the fact that you can never say anything in the web without it going unnoticed

49. Breandán says… oct 11, 2006 | 5:10 pm

It’s an interesting question about whether an irreverent personal site would scare off potential clients.

Speaking as a client of yours, I can only say that:
* I saw the site itself as a pretty good portfolio, especially because I was able to follow the Grey Boxes post about the design goals and process that you set for yourself;
* The site itself (including the source code) was a factor in my decision;
* The irreverence probably had something to do with it. I mean, some designers and firms out there just take themselves way too seriously!

50. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 11, 2006 | 7:28 pm

Ethan Watrall: I’m very glad you stopped by (I was hoping you would). On the whole, I definitely did find the criticism constructive. To be honest, what it really did for me was provide some perspective and make me a little nostalgic for my old classes. You are more than welcome to share this post and my thoughts with the students. And please try not to take any of the comments here personally, everyone here has the best intentions too.

Breandán: That’s why we like you too, Breandán :D

51. Ethan says… oct 12, 2006 | 11:09 am

Jason - I’ve posted something on our course website regarding your comments (and why students should always be polite when they write on the web).


I really appreciate how cool you’ve been about this. While I know some of my students were harsh in their tone, its great that you took (most) of what they had to say sereiously.

52. Paul R. Redmond says… oct 12, 2006 | 3:40 pm

Iv’e never been a fan of critics anyway.

I’m not suprised at your response—its the sign of not only a great designer, but an experienced one. He [Jason] relished in the good comments, and took the flaming with dignity.

A note to the class…
It sure is fun to have control of the flame-thrower, but your real talent will come from dealing with the other end of it (like Jason has repeatedly). Maybe this is why Andrei Michael Herasimchuk’s site is called Design by fire.

53. Gabe da Silveira says… oct 12, 2006 | 4:38 pm

I gotta agree with Ethan here. If you are getting all defensive on Jason’s behalf then I’d hate to see a critique of your own work. If you want to improve as a designer you’ll take any and all criticism with a level head. Maybe it’s valid, maybe it’s not, but the last thing you want to do is get all defensive. Where’s your self esteem?

54. Julie says… oct 12, 2006 | 4:43 pm

Hey Jason - Julie here. I’m glad to see that you and so many of your readers got a kick out of my comment on the dirt specs. And, I’m glad you’ve written such a thorough response to our critiques because I think you’ve made a lot of good points that many of us could refer to for the next time. I’m thankful that you and your readers have kept in mind the perspective of the college-aged designer and I really admire you for handling such criticism so well.

I’ve been going into these critiques with the intention of developing myself as a better designer - not so much for the benefit of the receiver, and I can see now that my perception of what critiquing means may have been a little skewed. I’ve read your critiquing post and can say that I will definitely be approaching the next assignment a bit differently.

I want you to know that I did like your site - the design is original, organized, and relates well to visitors. In fact, I didn’t have any major problems with your site design at all, but in an attempt to present an original viewpoint - I chose to comment on the dirt specs and sidebar image. I realize that I used the word “complain” in my post and that may have related a general dislike of the your site. However, that’s not the case at all. Like, I said earlier - I write the critiques to develop myself: to say this is what I like and this is what I don’t like in hopes that I’ll come out with a better idea of what kind of designer I want to become. So, these were simply things that I would’ve done differently.

But, I’m glad you found humor in the thought of your visitors wiping off their screens and I thank you again for your response to our class. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who learned something from this all.

55. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 12, 2006 | 5:15 pm

Julie: Thanks very much for the follow-up. Don’t worry too much about offending me, I definitely could understand where you were coming from (having been there myself). Critiquing, like design, is something that you only get better at the more and more you do it. Here’s to us all recognizing our faults and learning from them! :D

56. John Lascurettes says… oct 12, 2006 | 7:11 pm

On the flip-side and “back in my day…” I remember my design classmates usually being too non-commital and “nice” in their critiques, only talking about the strong designs and offering none of their own insights for the weaker ones.

I remember getting so frustrated by one student after another taking around the white elephant in the design and trying to find something nice to say about it. Seemed to me my classmates appreciated it much more when I was frank with them, admitting to them where I saw the strength in their concept while trusting them to accept my view on where it fell short objectively.

57. alain says… oct 12, 2006 | 7:15 pm

When I was in journalism school we used to critique different reels our professor would bring in from stations around the country. We were absolutely, outrageously, to-the-point-of-insulting-the-person’s-mother, mean. We’d say stuff like, “What’s up with her hair? It’s way too big, not to mention the bad dye job.” And that type of critiquing was encouraged.

A few years later at art school, the critiques were much more subdued. One instructor would critique our critiques if she thought they were too shallow or personal. Saying, “I just don’t like it” didn’t cut it. We always had to qualify it. “I don’t think the use of line and proportion was effective.” Or “the pattern was too busy for the scale of the design.” It was a level 100 class, I believe, but I still remember it as one of the most rewarding and useful.

Since the students who critiqued your site were doing so in a design class, I was surprised not too see more of that type of qualified criticism. Ethan’s comments regarding the wide range of students in his class did help to explain that, though.

Having said all this, what’s up with the all the book stuff on your site? If I wanted to read a book I wouldn’t be online! Man this site really blows…

58. Joshua Kendall says… oct 12, 2006 | 8:31 pm
On the flip-side and “back in my day…” I remember my design classmates usually being too non-commital and “nice�? in their critiques, only talking about the strong designs and offering none of their own insights for the weaker ones.”

That is exactly what goes on at my school in my classes (I generally fall under the “weaker” category… except in my web classes :) ).

They don’t offer any comments on the work of the students with weaker works (or even those with the best works) and it’s not that they couldn’t provide any insight, they just want to talk about the work of the classmates they are friends with.

If they do give feedback on those works not by their friends, they rip into it and joke about it, offering comments of no real value and they only do it to gain a laugh.

59. Jon Whiting says… oct 12, 2006 | 10:30 pm

A Student’s View

After reading the gigantic outpour of comments, I decided I needed to reply.

As a student in the class I would like to share a couple thoughts (which someone will probably tear apart).

1. I don’t really know anything about design. This class is teaching me everything, all the basics, of contemporary web design.

2. Some of us really liked the site! Feel free to read my critique, not a single bad thought in it!

3. Jason is clearly a well-developed designer and one of the only people keeping a level head on the issue. The outpour of comments have a pretty condescending tone to them, grouping all the students into a whole. Don’t think I’m offended, though! That’s ridiculous too! I just want to toss out the idea that maybe a grain of salt wouldn’t be a bad idea for either side.

Thanks to Jason for all the time spent on this subject. Keep up the good work.

60. Matt says… oct 13, 2006 | 5:07 am

Hmmm, I am glad it was your site and not mine that was critiqued by this class, Jason. Then again, you are kind of famous and I’m not. Anyway, there is something that I remember very clearly when I was a student: I thought I was smart and had sound opinions. Then there is something I remember very clearly when I got out of school: I felt really stupid and that my opinions had a long way to go before having much validity.

I believe it’s called maturity. Glad to see that you didn’t let the kids get to you.

61. Tanny O’Haley says… oct 13, 2006 | 1:11 pm

I liked your critique of the critique. It seems that not only did you learn from the class’ critique, but at the same time they learned from your critique.

I have a co-worker who I always ask to critque my work. Though he is not a programmer, he always comes up with amazing insight which makes what I do better. It is nice to know out of the negative (not all were negative) comments you were able to find comments that help you make your site better.

I did like the “dirt spec” comment. It made me laugh and think at the same time. Does she really not understand the design, or is it really valid?

I love the design of your site BTW.

62. Julie says… oct 13, 2006 | 1:48 pm

Tanny: I’m moving around so much that I’m always dusting off the screen of my laptop and in this instance I had directed the browser to the page and then left the room. When I got back, I saw the specs on my screen, and simply out of habit, tried to brush them off. My boyfriend came by later, saw the page open in my broswer and thought the same thing I did - and then he tried to wipe my screen off too.

My comment was taken out of context. I definately do understand the design and I appreciate it. The specs were just something that stood out to me - I wasn’t sure if they’d been put there on purpose to trick people like me into wiping our screens off or if maybe Jason, who I didn’t know very much about, simply didn’t see this perspective when he designed it.

63. JD says… oct 13, 2006 | 8:31 pm

Got here from zeldman.com, which I’m imagining is next, soon or ought to be on the docket at Michigan State. Can’t wait to see how the class and Jeffrey do with each other.

Anyway, I remember being 25 and invincible, too; it was a while ago. I don’t object to the student critiques, and I enjoyed the good humor with which they were accepted and responded to, not only by Jason, but also by his posters, and then in turn by the students.

But, Ethan: I beg of you to stop reinforcing the classic stereotype of the defensive, whiny, frustrated academic.

Telling posters who were negative that they didn’t have a clue about teaching serves no purpose. Of course your job is hard. So is everybody’s.

The post about beer bongs and Jason being a “frikkin’ role model” was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and the guy even said so in a post no less than three posts away from the original!

I hope the class learns and grows from this experience at least as much as their professor.

64. Mike Cherim says… oct 14, 2006 | 2:33 am

I love it. I got such a kick out of this and their comments I contacted their instructor and offered up Accessites.org to be critiqued. Good or bad or a bit of both it should be fun to read their comments and see what I can learn from them. I hope they take me up on the offer.

One thing I noticed in this, and something I picked up on when I had a “site check” done on three or four forums a couple years back, was how opinions and observations can be contagious. In one forum, the first commenter noted a dislike for a particular shade of brownish-green I had used. In the twenty or so comments which followed, this coloration issue became a common thread in the critiques. The first commenter set the stage.

Ironically, in the other forums, since the coloration wasn’t mentioned, nobody even brought it up and the site was generally well-received. Funny how these thing can work.

65. Tanny O’Haley says… oct 16, 2006 | 12:41 am

I’m sorry your comment was taken out of context. Because I had read your comment, I didn’t think you thought that it actually was a spec on the screen. I did not mean to make fun of you, but wanted to point out that designs should not be obtuse. If a person doesn’t “get it” (not saying you didn’t), then it should give the designer pause and they should think of the validity of the comment. The designer should take a little time to reflect on the design. As I should with my writing.

66. Ethan says… oct 17, 2006 | 8:24 pm

Jason - noticed you posted a little blurb about my student’s critiques on the SXSW site - awesome! If it hasn’t been said enough already, I’m personally seriously impressed by how well you took my student’s critiques. I know some of them were overly harsh (though, certainly not all). Bottom line is that I think my students got as much out of your responses than the actual assignment - which is completely cool with me.

67. bandelin says… oct 18, 2006 | 2:14 am

haha god dammit. atleast your critics have a college education. why do i get all the angry 14 yr olds..and why are they all from england.

68. Jason Santa Maria says… oct 18, 2006 | 10:13 am

Ethan: It actually wasn’t me, it was SXSW just metablogging. But, I am so happy that this not only turned out well, but that we could all take something away from it.

69. paul merrill says… oct 19, 2006 | 3:53 am

the very fact that 68 people commented before me indicates that your work and site have high value!

70. Juan Carlos says… oct 23, 2006 | 11:36 pm


I am a student in the same class that started this whole thing. What I can say, it is great that my college class got so many people interested and professionals to be in to it. Thanks for your time but please make other professionals not make you look like the god of design. You are really good on what you do (read my critique), but let’s be honest no one is perfect because design is like art; it is on the eye of the beholder. Even if everyone thinks of us as kids with no idea about anything, we do attend one of the highest ranked telecommunications and media programs in the whole country. We are not all ignorant kids, and by saying that we will be working in the industry soon too. We are in college and that means all of the work we do right now is critiqued by our professors even if we don’t like it, because that is how we get a grade.

Going back to design topic. Nice use of JavaScript. I think you spending the amount of time you spent on your own personal cite reflects a lot of your professional attitude. I did said good things about your site, but why do I have to get attacked indirectly by other people. I hope the people writing negative comments against my class, first read more of the postings and not get an idea only of a small amount of critiques quoted in this site.

Thanks Jason for your time, and hope to see you in MSU soon.

71. jonathan says… oct 31, 2006 | 4:05 pm

I think it might be interesting assignment for them to post some of their work online. ex. design an email client, blog, corporate website, landing page/banner combo, wireframes.…and have us critique them. -This is the fastest track to becoming a better designer.