A critique is one of the most important activities a designer can experience. Contributing and responding to design feedback is a skill, as much as drawing a line or choosing colors. Constructive feedback can advance the quality of your work, and ultimately your career.
A critique works best if there is an honest mutual desire to improve the work: ideally, those in the audience gain just as much from the process as the presenter. To maximize productivity, a few ground rules should be agreed to:
- Ensure that you understand the context. A critique is only valid if the purpose of the piece is clearly understood.
- Leave your ego outside the room. Open, honest dialog is key. Try your very best not to take things personally.
- Have reasons. “I like it” isn’t particularly helpful. Expressing how a work makes you feel is important, but you should also be able to articulate why something works or fails.
- Talk about the work as it is, not the person presenting it or the circumstances of its creation.
- “I would have…” is not useful. What you would do, or not do, is not helpful feedback. Instead, talk about what’s best for the work.
- Reference prior work. The success and failure of other pieces helps contextualize the work, and can help guide better design decisions. Ideally, use data. For example: “The illustrative content used here is strong, but it will increase file size greatly. Most users will give up if a site is not loaded after five seconds: how are you taking that into account?”
- Record feedback. As a rule, we remember very little of what we’ve been told verbally, and what we do recall is often fragmentary or distorted. Recording the feedback means being able to reference it clearly later.
Images adapted from photographs by Peter Hess. Many thanks to Andy Mangold, who’s “How To Speak Intelligently About Design” was a major influence on this article.
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