Kedron Rhodes Thoughts on Design, Innovation & Leadership

3 steps to a better critique

The critique is an embedded part of design education. As designers move through academia, the critique is where they’re challenged to think harder, take a new perspective, and sharpen their skills. The critique is delivered by their professors and peers, both of which are educated in the critique process, and have an understanding of the design principles in play.

Although this can be an uncomfortable process, the fact that the critic has a margin of credibility makes up for those inevitable rough moments.

Fast forward to graduation and the working sector. Many designers find themselves far from the rigor of a design critique and instead face an armchair design critic who has little or no design training. Not only is the feedback all over the place, it’s rarely given in a framework that allows for ideas to be expressed and explored. The feedback is reduced to drivel like, “it needs more pop” or “what about a carousel instead.”

As a designer, this can be incredibly frustrating!

If the critique process puts you on edge, or if you’re new to giving a critique, here is a framework you can use to ensure they’re productive and positive.

First and foremost you need to set the team’s expectations. Be clear about the elements you’re looking for feedback on, and guide the conversation to stay on point. If you hand over an idea for critique with “what do you think?”, don’t expect a productive conversation.

Once you set the expectations, ask the critic to follow these simple steps as they think through their response.

Start with “I like”

Have the critic start with something they think is working about the piece you’re asking for feedback on. Getting people started on a positive note is more likely to get them in a positive frame of mind. This is more important than you may think. Having a positive posture in the conversation positions the critic to be open minded, generative, and solution oriented. Starting off on a negative tone can send the critique spiraling into a black hole of pessimism and defeatism.

Example: I like how the navigation is shaping up. I’ve seen this pattern before, but your take on it feels fresh and relevant.

Move to “I wish”

Using the phrase “I wish” continues to position the conversation toward possibilities. “I wish” speaks to aspirations, where as “I don’t like” leads to a quick a dead end. Using this phrase helps the critic formulate what they feel is missing in the piece they are critiquing. It forces them to think deeper than a knee jerk reaction.

Example: I wish the titles carried more weight and felt more like an authoritative presence on the screen.

End with “What if”

The simple phrase “what if” is a generative one. This is an opportunity for the critics to explore solutions and express how they might solve the problem. It puts them in the hot seat where they can be a part of the solution! When a critic has skin in the game, they’re more likely to give you valuable feedback!

Example: What if we darkened the titles just a bit and increased the size a notch or two?

You don’t need a design degree to conduct or give an effective critique. This framework steers the conversation toward solutions, building trust along the way. Critiques should be a positive experience for everyone involved! They should result in more and better ideas that push the quality of the piece higher and higher.

The design critique should be energizing and generative. If it’s not, try this approach.

If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes! Ping me on Twitter @kedronrhodes

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