‘To be cruel to be kind’ is the phrase that comes to mind to describe this reality of university education. However, when the chips are down and it feels like the whole world is against you, would it in fact be better to be kind to be kind?

Learning there are right and wrong answers is something we all pick up at an early age. Subjects like Maths are simple, where there’s always a correct solution, but unfortunately English is not so clean cut. It seems that design is very often about wrong answers. Discovering what doesn’t work can be just as beneficial as figuring out what does. As Thomas Edison famously said: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Some are better at dealing with failure than others but regardless, for a young student, it’s still nice to know you’ve succeeded every once in a while.

Constructive criticism is supposed to be just that, constructive.The theory being that once it’s taken on board, you will improve as a result. But what happens if this isn’t the case? University is designed to promote self-learning, which essentially means you must figure it out on your own. However, a constant spiral of failures is enough to send anyone into despair and has the potential to cause far more harm than good.After a long period of struggle you may be successful but by that point you’re almost convinced it’s essential to find all the wrong answers before you find one that works. I’m not suggesting that you should expect to find a solution at the first attempt but pointless frustration and stress is no use to anyone.

On the other hand, working hard towards a goal can only make achieving it all the more satisfying. Finding things that don’t work can only eventually bring you closer to a solution that does. Experimenting with different ideas is an integral part of design and there are endless opportunities to learn, but the necessary process can be long and painful.

This is where collaboration comes into its own. Especially in the early years of university, working together and sharing ideas can significantly boost both confidence and ability. Individually you may not be blessed with all the right answers but by helping one another you have a much greater chance of success. Being open to share your ideas and receive other people’s is a key part of being a designer. Constructive criticism is never intended to be cruel, no matter how it comes across. Perhaps in many cases, it could be more cruel to say nothing at all. Therefore, anything you do say may in fact turn out to be kind, to be kind.