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Discussing Design: The Art of Critique

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Discussing Design: The Art of Critique

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Critique is a vital skill for any good designer. Here we talk about it's application in everyday life as well as the formal work we do with clients as UX Designers.

This talk has been given at a number of conferences by myself and the amazing Aaron Irizaryy (http://www.thisisaaronslife.com/)

We'll be keeping the most up-to-date version of the slides uploaded here. If you'd like a copy from a previous iteration, please get in touch with either Aaron or myself, and we'll happily get one to you.

Updated 5/55 to the version used at WebVisions Portland in 2012.

Critique is a vital skill for any good designer. Here we talk about it's application in everyday life as well as the formal work we do with clients as UX Designers.

This talk has been given at a number of conferences by myself and the amazing Aaron Irizaryy (http://www.thisisaaronslife.com/)

We'll be keeping the most up-to-date version of the slides uploaded here. If you'd like a copy from a previous iteration, please get in touch with either Aaron or myself, and we'll happily get one to you.

Updated 5/55 to the version used at WebVisions Portland in 2012.

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Discussing Design: The Art of Critique

  1. DISCUSSING DESIGN The Art of Critique Adam Connor Aaron Irizarry EXPERIENCE DESIGN DIRECTOR PRODUCT DESIGNER
  2. So, what is critique?
  3. The new Spotify design is perhaps even worse than the old Spotify design. The visual hierarchy and underlying IA are terrible. We should make that a dropdown instead of radio buttons. I would never use this. I don’t like the layout. This is terrible. I have no idea what the lines mean. We're disappointed in this solution. We're going to have our own designers Looks ugly. Make it pretty. come up with one. I like the paper form better. What. The hell. Is this? None of this is what I asked for. Make it look more Here is a rewrite. My intention is What kind of company shuts down a much-loved service like SharePoint. to sharpen the language, make it like Google Reader but keeps the vegetative Google Plus? more precise. I'm just not feeling it. I don't know what, but it isn't right yet. Just needs to be more innovative. It doesn't have enough spunk. The wireframes are still not answering our problem Change the order of the screens so that the and are not providing enough an easier solution for 3rd and first one are switched. the page. It needs more flululululuh!! No. That won’t work. What if we It’s laid out too much like [popular service]. We should be different. do it this way...
  4. Critique is about critical thinking.
  5. There are two facets to critique: giving and receiving. At their foundation is intent.
  6. Giving critique with the wrong intent is selfish.
  7. Giving critique with the right intent is selfless.
  8. Tips for giving critique Use a filter. Gather initial thoughts and reactions. Revisit them in the right context. Don’t assume. Find out the reason behind thinking, constraints or other variables. Don’t invite yourself. Get in touch and ask to chat about the design. Lead with questions. Show an interest in their process. Talk about strengths. Critique isn’t just about the things that aren’t working.
  9. Receiving critique with the right intent takes humility and a bit of restraint.
  10. Tips for receiving critique Remember the purpose. Critique is about understanding and improvement, not judgement. Listen and think before you talk back. Do you understand what the critics are saying? Participate. Analyze your proposed solution with everyone else. Set the right foundation. Use knowledge and prior agreements to get everyone on the same page.
  11. Questions to ask yourself What problem was the designer trying to solve or what goal were they trying to achieve? How did the designer try to solve that problem or achieve that goal? How effective is what the designer did at solving the problem or achieving the goal? Why is or isn’t what the designer did effective?
  12. More things to think about Are there any problems the designer could or should have solved, but didn’t? Do any new problems arise as a result of the choices the designer made? These kinds of questions can be important to think about and ask, but be prepared for them to be beyond the scope of the designer’s work, and therefore not something to focus the remainder your critique on.
  13. A few things to keep in mind Critique is a skill. You only get better with practice. Start small. Think before you speak. Choose who you critique with carefully.
  14. The rules of critique Avoid problem solving and design decisions. Everyone is a critic. Everyone is equal. The designer is responsible for follow up and decisions.
  15. Who should you invite?
  16. Set the right foundation for good critique Scenarios Short narratives that the describe the desired behaviors, thoughts, reactions, emotions, etc. of the user. Describes what happens, but not how. Personas User Archetypes that describe their average behaviors, goals, expectations, knowledge, etc. Goals Desired, measurable outcomes of the user interacting with the product or service. Can be user oriented, business oriented or both. Principles Desired qualities or characteristics of the solution. Describe what happens, but not how.
  17. The Mini-Brief A Mini-Creative Brief is a short writeup of a project About 1/2 - 1 page that recaps the foundation and context for why something is being created. It includes... A brief summary of the problem statement and business goals. The key users (personas) of the solution. The main scenarios in which the solution will be used. The design principles to be followed. Note: This isn’t necessarily the full documentation for these individual elements. Review this at the start of a meeting or discussion. Doing this helps to ground the conversation and ensure everyone is working toward the same goals.
  18. Preparation & kickoff
  19. Facilitating critique Critique Goals Active listening, question for clarity Round Robin Direct Inquiry Quotas Six Thinking Hats Facilitators
  20. Dealing with difficult people
  21. Dealing with difficult people Set expectations at the beginning. Make sure everyone understands critique. Ask quiet people for feedback directly. Refer back to personas, goals and principles. Use laddering (The 5 Whys). Critique with people individually.
  22. What comes next?
  23. Making critique part of your process Standalone Critiques Design Reviews Brainstorms and Collaborative Activities
  24. Standalone critiques are awesome because they can... Provide an introduction to people unfamiliar with critique. Provide a safe(r) place to practice giving and receiving feedback. Allow teams to focus feedback on specific goals, topics, etc. Increase the sense of collaboration in team members. Two approaches: Impromptu and Scheduled
  25. When can you have critiques?
  26. Anytime!
  27. What can you critique?
  28. Anything!
  29. Critique is about iteration and improvement. So long as you’re looking to improve on whatever it is you’re doing, you’ve got an opportunity for critique.
  30. Making critique part of your process Standalone Critiques Design Reviews Brainstorms and Collaborative Activities
  31. Design Reviews and their challenging for critique because... They’re used to get approval or some kind of blessing. Their timing is driven by project timeline. They often have too large of an audience and many attendees have the wrong intent. Their output, if not approval, is typically a list of specified changes.
  32. Making the most of a Design Review Take control as much as possible. Recap the goals and principles of the design. Use the same tools as you would for dealing with difficult people. Don’t rely on them for critique. Be prepared to schedule a more focused session.
  33. Making critique part of your process Standalone Critiques Design Reviews Brainstorms and Collaborative Activities
  34. The problems with brainstorms Artist Unknown
  35. The problem with brainstorms They lack focus. They progress too quickly into group think mentality. They fail to generate more ideas than would be produced by a single contributor. Artist Unknown
  36. A loose framework for collaboration Divergent Convergent Thinking Critique Thinking Individual Exploration Group Refinement Your Super Innovative Brainstorm Session
  37. To sum it all up There are 2 sides to critique: giving & receiving. The right intent (on both sides) is to try to understand the decisions made so far and their impact toward meeting goals and objectives. Critique is a skill. It takes practice to improve. There are basic rules that should be followed to help ensure good critique. Mutually understood and agreed upon goals are critical both when asking for and giving critique.
  38. To sum it all up Learning to facilitate critique by asking the right questions is key to introducing and fostering a culture of critique. Critique can be done both internally and with clients. Use up to 6 people for about 1 hour. Be prepared to deal with difficult people. You will encounter them. Critique can be incorporated into the design process both as an activity and as part of other activities.

Editor's Notes

  • Intro\nTell story\n
  • Aaron\nWe talk about critique in the context of giving feedback\nOften it’s equated with giving feedback, but it’s more specific than that. It’s a deliberate, active process\nFeedback is nothing more than how we react to something.\nCritique identifies where/how a design meets or doesn’t meet specific goals.\nIt’s a form of analysis.\nIs delivered in a form in which the person receiving it understands and can act upon it.\n
  • Adam\nActually it’s kind of the reverse of critical thinking\nWhere critical thinking is about problem solving, critique is about trying to understand what problems the designer is trying to solve, and how\nWhy is it important to talk about critique:\nIts something a lot of us talk about doing, but often have challenges with. Particularly with clients.\nHelps establish a common framework for discussing designs and ideas.\nCreates opportunities for more team interaction, building collaboration and trust\nLearning to critique makes us better communicators.\n
  • Aaron\nIntent is the initiator of critique.\nIt defines the purpose of the critique process.\nThe success of critique hinges on intent. Critique only works when the intent is right on both sides.\n\n
  • Aaron\nIt is focused on personal goals at the expense of the team or other individuals.\nSelfish Critique:\n140 characters of one sided, open ended critique every time an app/site is launched or updated.\nProviding unwelcome or un-timely feedback, without context, or consideration (in a team environment or otherwise).\n
  • Adam\nThe right intent is wanting to improve the product\nIt is focused on facilitating conversation and critical thinking that leads to improvement.\nThe best critiques are a discussion.\n
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  • Aaron\nRequesting feedback for personal validation. If you need a hug just ask :)\nAsking for feedback with no intent of listening.\n
  • Aaron\nRecognize that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, there is always room for improvement.\nThink before you talk back. Are you being defensive? Protective?\nRemember that you are (supposed to be) in control. It's up to you to decide what feedback to act on and what not to.\n
  • Aaron\nRecognize that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, there is always room for improvement.\nThink before you talk back. Are you being defensive? Protective?\nRemember that you are (supposed to be) in control. It's up to you to decide what feedback to act on and what not to.\n
  • Aaron\nRecognize that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, there is always room for improvement.\nThink before you talk back. Are you being defensive? Protective?\nRemember that you are (supposed to be) in control. It's up to you to decide what feedback to act on and what not to.\n
  • Aaron\nRecognize that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, there is always room for improvement.\nThink before you talk back. Are you being defensive? Protective?\nRemember that you are (supposed to be) in control. It's up to you to decide what feedback to act on and what not to.\n
  • Aaron\nRecognize that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, there is always room for improvement.\nThink before you talk back. Are you being defensive? Protective?\nRemember that you are (supposed to be) in control. It's up to you to decide what feedback to act on and what not to.\n
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  • Aaron\nAn introduction to participants unfamiliar with giving structured feedback.\nA safe(er) place to practice giving and receiving feedback.\nCritique vs. Review meetings\n
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  • Adam\nThe “I like/don’t like” situation.\nAlways make sure to review these (and any other) ground rules with clients to gauge how comfortable they are with them before planning a critique.\nAlso, post the ground rules in the room where the critique will be held.\n\n
  • Adam\nThe “I like/don’t like” situation.\nAlways make sure to review these (and any other) ground rules with clients to gauge how comfortable they are with them before planning a critique.\nAlso, post the ground rules in the room where the critique will be held.\n\n
  • Adam\nThe “I like/don’t like” situation.\nAlways make sure to review these (and any other) ground rules with clients to gauge how comfortable they are with them before planning a critique.\nAlso, post the ground rules in the room where the critique will be held.\n\n
  • Adam\nThe “I like/don’t like” situation.\nAlways make sure to review these (and any other) ground rules with clients to gauge how comfortable they are with them before planning a critique.\nAlso, post the ground rules in the room where the critique will be held.\n\n
  • Aaron \n3 - 6 people\nChoose attendees based on the goal(s) of your session.\nConsider personality, not just roles.\nDon’t use the same people every time.\nPeople to invite:\nExecutives/Business Sponsors/Stakeholders\nSubject Matter Experts\nMarketers\nDevelopers\nBiz Analysts\nOther Designers\n
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  • Aaron\nSend out materials ahead of time.\nClearly describe the goals of the product but not how it’s intended to achieve them. (flesh this out further)\nPresent quickly.\nBe careful when talking about constraints.\n
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  • Aaron\nTake note of how people participated\nDocument any observations and open questions and post/share them.\nFollow up with individuals to for more feedback or to explore an idea.\nCommunicate next steps: what activities will occur prior to the next critique.\n
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