DESIGN CRITIQUEHow to support, develop, and enhance ourcreative juices
design• Designing a product involves: • Creativity • Choice • Compromise • Collaboration • Communication• This all happens between real human beings, with wants, desires, feelings, ego, failings…• Design is partly subjective • Few absolute rights and wrongs • Shaped and informed by each team member’s personal and professional experience
“design is compromise”• “…the design team represents a number of stakeholders, such as design, engineering, product management, marketing, and so on. Each has its own legitimate priorities, and these priorities will often come in conflict with each other. An example might be making the appropriate tradeoff between the “right” interface from the designer, and the “possible in my lifetime” reality confronting the engineer.”• Bill Buxton, Sketching User Experiences, pg. 149
design critiques• Design critique: formal process of reviewing and providing feedback on design idea in a material form • Process diagrams, sketches, mock-ups, wireframes, prototypes• Rules for providing feedback – positive and negative – in these critiques• These rules also apply to day-to-day interactions in design and development environments
critique essential in design• Feedback required for making choices • Corrective to meandering designs • Mechanism for identifying constraints • Technical, use situation, product features, visual… • Justification for understanding compromises • Anchor for the design rationale behind choices and alternatives• “What keeps things healthy and stimulating, as opposed to the source of resentments and bruised egos, is the process by which these choices are made.” (Buxton, pg. 149)
design rationale• Provides why not just what for decisions• Based in shared language of project goals• Feedback – positive and negative – anchored in the why • “I don’t like it” is not helpful• Knowing why behind decisions makes it easier to make the next one … • or if need be, break previous because things change• “Being explicit about the design rationale … guides the process away from decision by bullying, browbeating, or seniority to one where the reason for the decision is understood, and can be articulated by anyone on the team.” (Buxton, pg. 149)
how to provide constructive feedback• Respect• Dispassionate view • But subjectivity okay within bounds• Concrete and specific• Not one-way • Back and forth, give and take, investigation not interrogation• Recommend sparingly
respect• Beyond basic cordiality and politeness • Practicing small acts of respect• Understand/acknowledge the hard work in design• Understand difficulty in receiving criticism• Do not ambush someone with an unsolicited critique • Surprise doesn’t make us receptive to advice or criticism• Note your gut reaction, but… • Think before you speak• Off-hand comments are not helpful• Not about how smart you are, but how helpful
dispassionate view• Critique the design, not the designer • Design by its nature very personal thing • Honest but not mean-spirited feedback • Minimize attacking feeling – a natural reaction to criticism • Designer should know he/she is not being judged • Remarks that undermine designer or team’s enthusiasm help no one• Step back … • Accept design/product’s current state • Do not assume everything is solely a designer’s intention • Stakeholders/tradeoffs/factors over which designer has little or no control • Use your critique to explore directions, alternatives, reasons… • Use your critique as opportunity to teach entire team by sharing your expertise, vision, skills• Schedule private meetings.. • if a problem substantial enough that can’t address publicly
subjectivity• Yet, when things just don’t seem right and… • You’re just not sure why you feel that way… • And you have thought of the project’s design goals… • And you respect the designer… • But you just have to get it off your chest… • Label it explicitly as your opinion, impression or feeling
concrete and specific• What did I enjoy about this design and why?• What concerns me about this design and why?• What does this remind me of and why?• Highlight what is successful • [It] works because… • Adding praise in with critique makes for all-around happiness• Walk me through what the user needs to do…• Have you considered [alternative]...
critique is not one-way• Articulate your observations but invite questions • Provide feedback but allow back-and-forth conversation • Critique -- investigation not interrogation • Try to understand why product/design is a particular way before suggesting that it be done another way • Try to understand problem being addressed• Tell me about [this flaw I see]• “In the best critiques weve seen, the critics never made a single recommendation. Instead, they asked questions and guided discussion. They talked about the significance of design rationale, as it pertained to a bigger philosophy and vision for the design.” Jared Spool, UIE, 2008
recommendations• Critique is about issues with product/design, not about designing• Therefore, offer suggestions/recommendations sparingly • Show problems you see, and let designers and team go from there • Don’t start to design solution unless designer/team ready • Instead of … • “Maybe someone thinks the Outlook Bar is kinda slick for navigation, but it sucks and has to go. Put in drop-down menus.” • Phrase a design issue… • “I am having trouble with the Outlook Bar as navigation. Why is it being used for navigation? What alternatives have you considered?” • Focus conversation on bigger picture • Provides for discussion about how element (Outlook Bar) is or is not contributing to user experience...
learning from criticism• Listen intently, even if it hurts• Take a deep breath, count to 10… • First reaction often…No, you are wrong; What do you know? • Regain composure; allow logic to prevail over emotion.• Assume critic well meaning• Evaluate feedback – sometimes it isn’t constructive • People in bad mood, inexperienced, unskilled or maybe unqualified to give valuable feedback. • Separate useful feedback from cheap shots and misinformation• Evaluate feedback – sometimes its vague • Be curious; ask questions; engage critic• Evaluate feedback – sometimes its just right! • This is learning• Make an effort to improve• Regardless of whether criticism was spot-on or just rude… • Make a point of saying Thank You to anyone who takes the time to critique your work
constructive criticism• Specific. Valuable feedback is always specific. It is clear, logical and defined. “The logo is ugly” or “I don’t like the color choice” are examples of useless.• Actionable. Constructive criticism should enable you to take immediate action. You should come away with a clearer idea of how to improve the concept and the path to follow.• Objective. Useful feedback is unbiased. It gives you a unique perspective without an ulterior motive. Objective criticism will always be even-tempered and appropriate.
constructive criticism• Uncover blind spots Doing your own thing is easy, but your habits will eventually become deeply ingrained and hard to break. Criticism gives you a vital outside perspective on your work, uncovering potential areas for improvement that you are unable to see by yourself.• Challenge yourself Feedback challenges you to be a better designer. Rather than settle for your own standards, you are pushed to take your work to the next level.• Develop communication skills If nothing else, dealing with a critic can dramatically improve the way you communicate — an essential skill for any successful design career.• Outside motivation Constructive criticism often gives you the kick in the butt you need to learn a new design skill or technique. Self-motivation is great, but everyone could use a hand from time to time.• A lesson in humility Never underestimate the importance of humility. Although criticism can bruise the ego, it keeps you grounded, making you easier to work with and more open to learning from others.
critique versus proofing• A critique is different from proofing the design. When we proof, were looking for those little details, like typos and inconsistencies, that distract us from reaching perfection. Proofing is about polishing, whereas critiquing is about reaching understanding.
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