by Joanna Ngai
Everybody has ’em but not everybody want to hear them.
In the context of a design critique, the right critique communicated well can be the fuel that ignites an ordinary concept and takes it to the next level.
A design critique represents an enormous opportunity to learn from a diverse set of experiences and perspectives of those in the room. It can be not only a learning experience but also ease the design onto the right direction.
While there are many pieces of advice out there on giving design critique:
- Be positive and constructive
- Focus on user goals/outcome
- Ask meaningful questions
- Don’t be a jerk
- Frame critique by offering more context
- Use the hamburger method
I’d like to discuss how to be more effective taking design critique.
Step 1: Listen
How do you respond when braced with an individual’s thoughts on shortcomings in your work?
Often our knee jerk reaction is to get defensive. After all, we put in hard work and a brave face to get to the point where we show our work to other people. It’s natural to get a little attached to your designs and then to make all sort of inaccurate assumptions:
There is one universal and objective measure of how good and bad anything is.
That the critic is in sole possession of the skill for making these measurements.
Anyone that doesn’t possess this skill (including the creator of the work) is an idiot and should be ridiculed.
That valid criticisms can and should always be resolved.
— Scott Berkun
Don’t take it personally.
Think of a healthy design critique as a conversation rather than condemnation. There are no right and wrong answers in a critique as design is a rather open ended question.
Step 2: Understand
Ask clarifying questions to get to the gritty details.
In the process of a critique, the primary job is to identify problem areas. The actual problem solving portion can be done later, rather than creating a dreaded design by committee situation.
Instead of fumbling to respond to ambiguous statements, work together to engage in a dialog where you can center critique around prioritized project goals (which may change throughout the course of your design process).
At the end of this point, you will hopefully have a set of compiled notes (from either a notetaker or yourself) and have a set of tasks to iterate on.
Step 3: Reflect
When looking for feedback on our creations, what we should be working to understand is whether we think it’s true or not that what has been created, and the way in which it’s been created, adequately achieves those objectives. We’re looking for a type of analysis to take place.
— Adam Connor
You are allowed to take what is valuable and throw away what isn’t — that’s the beauty of a critique. It’s the responsibility of a designer to process through all the perspectives given.
At the end of the day we’re all on the same side, trying to make our design better. While others may not always be agreeable in a design critique, it is ultimately necessary and beneficial to show our work.