21 July 2008

When to say to someone: you suck?

Living in the Eastern Europe I wasn't brainwashed into Political Correctness but still have a scale of moral values (which may be different from those in, say USA or Australia) so I have a mental blockage of saying to someone directly "you suck" or "your work suck", even if there are times when I really fell a need to do so.

Example: someone comes to the Fedora Art list, introduces himself and shows some graphics which are supposed to be a proof about his experience in the field. But the graphics are so bad, that there is no chance that person will be able to ever produce something useful. Usually you ignore the message or give a polite, but cold, reply, hopping he will understand (as anyone else, I had my share of those and sometime I think I understood the message, butprobably not always).

So a question I ask myself over and over is: is not more honest (and maybe the better thing to do) to say to that person directly "your work is not good enough"? That way he will not have false hopes, will not work in vain and maybe will have a chance to explore another area, where he may be good enough (but them, you will not be considered a "friendly community").

Of course, the same question may be asked outside the tiny niche of Linux graphics and I bet everyone wanted at least once to have heard a blunt "you suck" right from the start.

Note: this is not about literally saying "you suck", but about not necessarily trying to say nice things at all costs.


  1. No chance to ever produce anything worthwhile? I think that's probably unwarranted.

    It would be better to try to think what you could say to someone that would guide them on a path to improve to the point where they can contribute. Show them what the standard is, tell them what aspects of their work you think need most improvement, and let them try.

  2. Some works can be improved, some not... like me if I would start singing. At best I could probably reach a kindergarden level.

  3. We should never need to be "cold" to potential contributers -- many of which read this planet. By posting this, you can be driving folks away. Please keep in mind you are not the only judge of "talent" here -- I think many of the things YOU post might "suck", but I don't say so. There are ways to say things much more tactfully, and in many cases, they can be left unsaid.

    Between this and upskirt-gate and your horrible reaction to it (mocking the problem rather than apologizing), I think you should seriously consider what you are posting to Fedora planet. This does not reflect well on us.

    Please leave the chauvinism and the bad attitude for other planet. Please.

  4. Please provide a sample of me being rude or at least inadequate on the mailing list (which is the proper channel for communication). You may see the occasional "put up or shut up" but that is all.

  5. "...and I bet everyone wanted at least once to have heard a blunt "you suck" right from the start."

    Umm. Nope. I have *never* wanted to hear that from the start (even if I knew it to be true). :)

    I think it is a matter of how to be tactful. And I think there are a lot of people in the technical community (not only Linux) who lack this skill entirely. Sure there is something to be gained from being direct. You may achieve the desired result and you may achieve it quickly, but is that *always* the point? The free and open source community is about respecting others and in my opinion anyways, about encouragement and advice.

    Personally I don't like discouraging anybody from trying something and improving their skills. That's just my nature. Of course, the response will also depend on the character of the person in question. If the person arrives with lots of arrogance and bravado that far exceeds his or her skill level, then a more direct response might be justified, but if the person approaches your community with respect and some semblance of humility, then they should be treated with the same.

    It is possible to tell someone that their skills are not up to the task right now, and still encourage them to improve or change their approach. This is constructive (for both him and your community) but telling them they suck is not.

    But I'm one that loves to show people that doing certain things (like creating graphics) are not always as hard as they initially might think. This is something I love doing - dispelling myths about how difficult things actually are - so my vantage point is likely skewed.

    And I can't tell from the end of your second last paragraph whether you think being seen as a "friendly community" is a good thing or not. I can't imagine wanting one of any other kind.


  6. Yup Richard, your tutorials are great and I am sure a lot of people learned a lot from them, even I learned a few tricks. And if you read my tutorials, will probably see I try to make them as newbie friendly as possible. But I don't talk here about newbies.

    See a scenario like that: some guy tries to contribute to a certain FOSS project, say a Linux distro, his contribution is rejected with a bogus explanation (for example supposedly the artwork pieces are too big in size and there is not enough space on the CD). Then he go to another project, say another distro and tries to contribute here. If what he receive a similar bogus explanation or just silent treatment, he will go another place and so on.

    We try to be nice persons ourselves (or just look like nice persons) and I am not sure this is always the best option.

  7. It is weird how I can totally agree with what you say and in the next sentance, think the exact opposite...

    "Living in the Eastern Europe I wasn't brainwashed into Political Correctness"
    Living in Western Europe, I just find it hilarious when I read someone saying "he / she" at every sentance, just to be "politically correct". Maybe it is not pleasant, but the rule (at least in French) is to use the masculine when speaking about both men and women. That's just a rule, it doesn't mean that you don't repect women...

    "even I learned a few tricks"
    This sentance really made me laugh :D

    I won't say that I think your artwork suck, because I do not have even the slightest part of the skills you have (and I mean it). However, I'm not sure I already appreciated one of the graphics you did for Fedora.

    Did I say "you suck" ? Nope. Humility is (I think) the key. As others commented already, some people are not as talented as you are (which is already often a matter of tastes), this can be said in a way that favors improvement of everyone, but not in a cold "you suck" way.

    By the way, nice blog entry, after losing some potential women contributor, you certainly just lost potential contributors to the Art team who were hesitating about submitting there sketches, and who will now be sure not do so. :)

  8. In my language the same rule is to use the masculine form when referring to both. This is what I learned back in primary school as proper grammar.

    "even I learned a few tricks" is because both I and Richard create tutorials, so yes, you should take it as a tongue-in-cheek comment from friendly competition.

    And stop puttiing word in my mouth, I said "polite, but cold", which is not "you suck", it is more like "please upload it to the wiki". The "suck" part was a third, unused, option.

  9. I don't really believe there is ever a situation where "there is no chance that person will be able to ever produce something useful." becoming a competent illustrator or designer is, like most things, simply a matter of practice not of inherent skill. Granted you're better off starting young but starting old is no barrier to someone determined to learn.

    So I don't think there's ever a reason to tell someone flat out that they suck and that they should just stop trying. If you believe someone's work to be bad explain why you think so; poor use of colour, sloppy finish, confusing message, too cluttered,(whatever) and suggest how it might be improved. Seems to me the problem only arises if 1. you're not able to be constructive in your criticism or 2. you lie giving a false reason (file size was mentioned), basically in order to save yourself time (fair enough you may be short of time but then the problem is yours not the potential contributors).

    Aside: I found this post through the Planet Fedora blog, I'm looking to learn about Linux by installing it on an old laptop (Right now I wouldn't know where to start). I have to say the attitude displayed in this post is kind of off putting if that's the communities approach to people who want to learn.

  10. There are differences between being PC, being tactful and flat out lying to somebody. And I'd be flat-out lying if I said I got it right every time, too.

    The usual negative reply to a resume runs along the lines of "we went another way" or "not what we're looking for right now," (either of which invites a reapplication later) or else "not a match for our environment" (which is code for "never speak to us again"). What those statements do is describe the consequences of an evaluation without calling into question the worth of the applicant--but without opening the evaluation up for debate.

    If the applicant presses you for an explanation (and a smart applicant will do so by asking open-ended questions), answer by being very specific and giving examples.

    Suggesting that someone has no skills which could possibly be a match for any employer--and will never acquire them--is probably an over-ambitious evaluation.

    It is delightful to imagine verbally taking somebody completely apart, though. I'm thinking of a line in The Paper Chase which went something like, "Here is a dime. Call your mother. Tell her it is very unlikely you will ever be a lawyer."

    The professor in question was demonstrated in the movie to be a brilliant lawyer, but otherwise a complete dick, and ultimately, also completely wrong about the student.

  11. nicu, I don't know if you can say about someone that he'll never be good at something. You should know well that talent is only the base upon which you build, the rest is experience and hard work. Though I agree that sometimes it would be good to say bluntly that the work is just bad. I would not use the word 'suck' though.

    But that's theory. In practic life, I've never been (IIRC) brave enough to say someone that his art is ugly, but when I create something which clearly is not good and people are not brave enough to point it out, I am not satisified either. It is ironic that while I "want" to hear some critics to my work, I cannot directly criticise someone others...

    And from your explanations... I don't know if you wanted the person in question to get to know about the problem with his skills, but I think from your post it is more than clear who you had in mind, if the reader follows art list as well (and from one of your comments even more so)...

  12. I'm an American, but I spent some time in the Netherlands, and the Dutch feel a little like the American way of "weighing your words" is a little dishonest. Now, the Dutch are so direct that even other Europeans, who are far more to the point that Americans, sometimes consider them a little rude.

    But I sometimes wonder whether this whole sensitivity thing has a place in a technical community. One of the wonderful things about the Dutch is that you know exactly where you stand. There is no interpretation required, no reading between the lines. Shouldn't that be the way it is in a technical community?

    Of course the ideal world and the real world are light years apart. In the real world, especially in our international community, you need to not only consider how you say what you need to say, but you need to make that judgment in the light of the culture of your audience.

    Not an easy call, and by no means black and white.

  13. Nicu,

    With someone submitting poor quality works... if that's the best they can do, then I'd say "it's not currently up to our quality standards, but try these tutorials and keep practicing."

    Many artists suck when they first start out. Being told they suck can make all but the most dedicated or ornery quit and can be seen as a baptism of fire. But, generally, it's cruel and unwarranted.

    And some artists suck in some areas while they rock in others. For example, your RPG map icons were awesome, but your webcomic looks like something my friends and I used to draw when we were 11.

    What if I, judging solely by your webcomic, said "you suck"?

    First, you'd feel attacked. I didn't say that your work sucked. I said "you" suck. Now it becomes personal and the possibility of this becoming constructive goes out the window, plus we're enemies.

    Last, even if this person might not be good at a particular type of illustration, they might have other strengths that can be utilized. By chasing them away with harsh, possibly personal attacks, you lose them. Better to engage them, find their strength, and redirect them.

  14. so you want honesty?
    fedora 9 artwork sucks, I went through f10 concepts - they all suck, including the steampunk, that really isn't steampunk, just ugly clocks

  15. You might think it is very important to maintain a friendly community by providing feedbacks on one side, but you are feeling sorry to upset someone with honesty. I truly understand your frustration.

    IMHO, would suggest just let the submitter know what you think with honest, in the politest way. As an artist/designer, art sense might be the heart of profession which should not be expressed via any manipulation.

    Sorry for my bad English level.

  16. Wow. Congratulations. You've become a popular read on this planet lately...maybe for the wrong reasons?

    As an art student in college (just before computers took over the graphic design/desktop publishing universe) I remember feeling a little bit like you. More than once, I heard instructors say things to the not so good students like "interesting use of color" or "I like the tension you've created between your design elements". It used to annoy me a little.

    A funny thing happened though. The students who stuck it out and worked hard got much, much better. Good instruction, hard work and patience go a long, long way towards improvement. Oddly enough, I ended up a Sys Admin and some of those "not so good students" probably work in the art world today.

    To think of it another way, if you fell off your bike the very first time you tried to ride and your parents said "You'll never be able to ride that bike. Not EVER." How would you have felt? Even if their intentions were to keep you from getting bumps and bruises and spare you the pain of falling down again?

    We may just disagree, but ultimately I think it's better to find something to be positive about. Anything. Even if it's just "Interesting use of color".

  17. @Martin: I do not think that person reads Planet Fedora.

    @Evil Greg: this is a valuable feed back about the webcomic, it is not an easy task to publish it each week, so probably I could spend my time in a better way. I will probably do a re-evaluation sometime soon.

    @Anonymous: recently someone blogged about our F10 theme proposals and the article got to osnews. A lot of people said there that *all* the proposals suck and some people said the same on some Fedora mailing lists, so thins is nothing new :p

  18. It would be such a shame to lose the interest of someone who means well.

    You COULD try redirecting his course to where he might actually be of use (every resource and every person has some value). Or if he's dead-set on this one path, you could tell him the honest truth and give some suggestions on what he can do to improve.

    As well, he could start his own wiki pages for his work. There actually might be people who'll find his work good and use them. It might not make official Fedora, but it's something

  19. People are getting way too torqued up about this. If Joe Newbie is such a delicate snowflake that he can't handle hearing "you suck", then he really shouldn't be contributing to a high-profile software project.

    The real problem with "you suck" in an art context is that it's too subjective. It sounds as if you-the-critic don't like something just... because. If there are real flaws, then explain what they are in clear and direct terms. If you can't do that, then maybe it is just you and the work doesn't really suck at all.

    "Nice" is not the same as lying. Making up a bogus reason to reject some art is even worse than "you suck" because it gives the creator no feedback at all. Also because it assumes the person is too fragile to take real criticism.

    Man, I wish "you suck" was the worst put-down I ever heard. I guarantee there is some user out there waiting to say something 100 times worse.

  20. Nicu,

    I started publishing jokes on the web in 1995. If you want anything that's going to get "you suck" and worse e-mailed to you, publish humor. It's even more subjective than art.

    Whatever I said about your comic was my opinion. What you need to look at is not what one or a handful of naysayers say, but what your overall readership is.

    When people would say "you suck," I could reply "I've got 3,000 subscribers to my e-mail list who disagree with you. I'm writing for them, not you, so f*** off."

    Just my $0.02 on you taking my criticism of the web comic with any level of seriousness.

  21. @Evil Greg: the think is I fully know the webcomic is silly (on purpose) and it has a naive drawing style (I can make it much better looking but I am not sure it is worth the effort, will take much more time and work).

    The graphics in xkcd are much simpler like that, like drawn by a 4 year old, but that cartoon is all about the message, the ideas.
    I can't really judge my ideas because they are mine and I am subjective, this is why I have to rely on opinions form others (and I received mixed results about the webcomic).