My designer “career” started about ten years ago as a professional JAVA developer.I quickly moved from programming to design, from startup to a corporation, to an agency andﬁnally to another startup - GoodData, where I work now.Hi, my name is Peter. 2003 2012
I don’t like your design!I’ve been hearing this statement quite often.That’s because I lead UX design workshops, trying to educate web designers, productmanagers and ﬂedgling UX designers to respect the human who will be using their software
I always tailor the contents of the workshop to the needs of the people that attend it.There’s one single theme, that I did not anticipate.Something I did not know was a part of the UX designer’s skill-set.
Critique isn’t it? It’s easy,Most people severely underestimate how important it is and how much a proper critique canimprove their design skills.Most people also think critique is easy. But good, meaningful, productive critique is very hardto master. The Dunning-Kruger effect does not help either.
Raise your hands ...‣ Who criticised someone else’s design?‣ Who used: I don’t like it. Wow! That’s fantastic!
I don’t like it.Wow! That’s fantastic! This is not critique
You can agree or disagree with an opinionBut that will not make it more useful to you as a designer.
So what what is critique?Well, wikipedia will give you a deﬁnition.But the connection to design might not be immediately clear.What is critique?
Critique is about a systematic and detailed analysis.Critique is about critical thinking.About not accepting the world as it is, challenging the status quo.
Argument Argument Argument Argument Argument ArgumentAt the heart of critique is an argument.But not all arguments are created equal.
< Opinion Strong Critique >There are weaker arguments, based on inductive reasoning, consensus or analogies.
< Opinion Strong Critique >A strong critique in design is always based on research or results of usability testing.l always think more about arguments based on research, usability testing and userobservation in general.I’m interested in good psychology and design research papers. E-mail:email@example.com
Ouch Receiving critiqueThere are two sides in every critique. The giving and receiving end.Let’s start our exploration with your work being criticized. This part is more personal anddeﬁnitely harder to handle.
It’s important, that a designer knows how to receive critique. Why?There might not be enough time to educate the critics on how to perform the critique properly.
Even other designers are not very trained in critique.And thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, they might not be aware of it.
IntentLet’s start with intent, the hidden motivation behind critique.Why have you asked for critique?Did you decide you want to hear it?Has it been forced upon you?
Do you need a hug? Then go to your mom.You should not invite critique when you just want a pat on your shoulder.
Did you just want to show off your supreme design skillz?Well, why not, but it won’t work as a critique session.Only call for critique if you want your design improved. This has to be your main motivation.
InformationThe critics need information to base their reasoning on.You should present as much information as needed for an effective critique to take place.But there’s constraints you should be aware of.
First you need to deﬁne the scope of the critique.Without it, people will pick what they want to shoot. Err ... criticize.
It’s good to share Personas, Scenarios and basically any other user research you’ve basedyour work on.
But you do not want the critics to follow you in your footsteps.Just show them where did you intend to go - what were your design goals and constraints?It’s a good idea to stop them (show your failed designs) if they’re headed in a wrong direction.
You need them to form their own opinion!It’s those aha moments, that provide the most valuable insights.
This means, try not to explain your design decisions!I know this sounds hard. And it is, but try it.
EmotionalAttachmentThis is urge comes from your emotional attachment.You invested a lot of effort into the design.You have the right to be emotionally attached. It’s natural.
Your ﬁrst reaction to critique will probably be defensive. It’s extremely tempting to rationalizeyour design decisions – to explain why you did the things the way you did.This is a mechanism to protect your mind from the cognitive dissonance.Look for it and counter this reaction with the conscious mind.
Back off and act as if you are not around when critique is given.Let the design ﬁght for itself. Putting the design away for a month does wonders.
You wont be around when real people see and use the design.
Listen activelyUnderstanding the critique starts with active listening.Just hearing what the critics have to say is not enough.
Think about it and if there is anything, you don’t understand, ask why.Your goal is not agree or disagree with the critics, but to understand where do their argumentscome from.
And even if you understand everything perfectly now, you won’t remember much of it in a fewdays.Human memory is not a good tool to hold potentially dissonant information.According to research, you will continue to warp everything you remember so it conforms toyour beliefs.
You need to write everything down.If you are not able to take notes during the session, ask someone to do it for you.
Need help? Giving CritiqueOn the other side of the spear, things look differently.People think they help you, by expressing their opinion.But it looks differently on the other side, doesn’t it?Design critique needs to follow certain rules to be effective.
Intent, againAnd we’re at the intent.Again, because your motivation to critique is crucial.Everything else follows it.What is it you want?Help improve the design or your reputation on twitter?
Imagine your reaction to these two statements.Which one would you likely respond to?On one side is a offer to help. On the other something entirely different.Congratulations on your OMG! They redesigned theirredesign! I love the site. site, again. What a #ux #failWhen you get a chance, Iwould like to give you somefeedback.Can I buy you a beer or sendyou an email?
So don’t be selﬁsh.Wake the altruist in you.There is something for you too.
Your observation skills improve.And you will learn to better differentiate between the good design and bad design.And by doing it, your intuition will get better too.
The critique has to come at the right moment.Is the designer ready to reﬂect on the design?Is he prepared to what you have to say?Right moment
Throwing an email in the general direction of the designer usually does not help anyone.How would you personally respond to such a message?Critique without a discussion, does not make sense.
Don’t assume, know.When criticizing someone’s work, you should to know their design goals, constraints andtarget audience.Without it, you cannot objectively evaluate the quality of the design.Yet it happens to be done this way so often.
It is as if you were wandering around city on a foggy day, unable to see most of its beauty andﬂaws. When in doubt, ask.If you do not know what to ask to break that “I’dont like that” feeling down, we’ll come to thatin a few moments.
I’ve seen this so many times. The critics want to help by proposing a different solution.That’s not a bad thing per se, but don’t force it.Mention the idea and only explain more if the designer is interested.Proposing solutions
Be sure that the solution you propose is aligned with the design goals, personas andeverything else the designer told you.Handle it carefully. Or there might be unpleasant surprises :)
The Critique SessionSo the time is right and you would like to discuss your design with people.
?How many people should you aim for in a critique round?How many people did you have the best experience with?
I had the best experience with one on one type of session.Even if it is more time consuming to go through the design with multiple people this way.They are far easier to moderate than group sessions.Some people behave very differently when in a group.
If you have to do a group session, invite 4-6 people at most.And it’s a good idea to appoint a moderator, that will keep the discussion civil and on topic.Other helpful tools are - round robin (ask them in sequence) or directly ask questions.
What to ask?Sometimes it may happen, that you do not know, where to start.Or you just have a feeling you can’t really pinpoint. You can’t tell, what you like or dislike.These two emotions are just signals from your subconsciousness.This is your intuition speaking.
Who?‣ Does the design solve a speciﬁc problem they have?‣ Does it speak to the customer or just to the designer’s ego?
How?‣ How can you simplify the concept?‣ How does your solution meet a speciﬁc need of the Persona?
What?‣ What is the main argument?‣ Is it strong enough to satisfy the design goal?
Why?‣ Why is the other person approaching the problem in this way?‣ Use the 5 Whys to dig deeper.Why had the designer used this particular design element?But use it sparingly. Why questions might provoke the designer to defend himself and startrationalizing. Or the people really might not know why :)
If you want to critique visual design, then this chart from the book by Stephen Andersonmight come handy. from Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen Anderson
To sum up ...‣ Be humble‣ Detach yourself emotionally‣ Be speciﬁc‣ Learn to listenAccept the critique without defending yourself.Get some distance between yourself and your design.Try to get to the point.And learn to listen and understand.
You can reach me firstname.lastname@example.org | @vorkronor | delicious.com/vorkronor GoodCamping :)I mean it with the research papers.Thanks for sending me some :) Source for all images - internet