2 Legit 2 Crit: Critique Methods for Creative Design Work
Critique is a vital part of the creative process. Innovating fresh and relevant strategies for critique is a priority in my professional and education work. A few of my favorite techniques & methods for facilitating critical feedback for creative design work are below.
Before you start
Set the stage for a group dialogue by establishing “crit criteria” together — what are the goals of the work? What should we be evaluating today? This works best when it is 3–5 items and will usually come from the brief. For example: legibility, graphic power, emotional resonance, typography, audience. Post the criteria somewhere in the room so everyone remains on the same page throughout the crit.
Guide to Critique Dialogue
Liz Lerman’s Critical Response
One of the most wonderful techniques to “effectively provide feedback about artistic work” comes from choreographer Liz Lerman. My abridged version of her method adapted for design is here:
- Acknowledge the work: it exists. What is successful? What elicits a response? Commenting on the formal qualities of the work can feel obvious, but will confirm the effect of the visual communication. Do not offer opinions or critique at this stage. Keep it brief, specific, and genuine. Those providing feedback may gain an increased sensitivity to the emotional and psychological effects of visual design work after engaging with this practice.
- Designer poses questions about the work. The designer has the floor to frame up a few questions about the work. In many cases, design work should communicate without explanation, so resist the urge to explain. Designers can ask questions they have about what they’ve created (i.e. clarity, intention, formal decisions).The critics will answer the questions but should not offer opinions.
- Critics question the designer. Asking neutral questions is a great way to clarify the intentions of the design, and also a way to test the functionality and clarity of a solution. A neutral question has no point of view, but instead drives an inquiry. The example given in the Lerman article is “…instead of saying, ‘It’s too long,’ a person might ask, ‘What were you trying to accomplish in the circle section?’ or ‘Tell me what’s the most important idea you want us to get’…”
- A time for opinions. Opinions can happen in tandem with #3 as long as they are prefaced with “I’d like to offer an opinion”. This disclaimer sets up expectations for both the critic and the designer, and in both an academic and professional environment clarifies the distinction between directives and suggestions.
- Consolidate and report actionable steps. In a professional environment, the designer can report on actionable steps at the end and get consensus from the group, stakeholders, or Design Director. Clarifying concrete action items will keep a design project going. In an academic environment, students may need more time to digest feedback, but taking time in the moment to confirm references or clarify feedback can be a healthy habit to develop.
5 Formats for Structuring Critique
1. Silent Crit
A wonderful way to consolidate and record feedback from many people is “silent crit”. Capture feedback with pen and paper, a Slack channel, or another transparent digital tool like Google Docs. Use pen and paper as the capturing tool or as well as a group Slack channel. If you are seeking references a digital capturing tool will work better for linking. The pen and paper method can be a welcome break from screen-time and may also require moving around a room which can invigorate the body. Writing is a good method for folks who are less comfortable speaking in front of a group or and accommodates different paces for articulating feedback. Silent crit can also even the playing field for parties that are mixed with both local and remote folks.
This method can work well at any stage of a design process, but is especially fruitful toward the beginning and in the middle.
2. Post-it Attributes
A focused method that helps designers flex during the design process.
- First, make a list of attributes that can apply to the work (“more organic” “what if this scrolled?” “make it bigger”) — print or write on small slips of paper or post-its and distribute these items among the team or place in a bowl.
- Physically pin up the work to be critiqued in a space. Each person can apply the attribute they draw from the bowl to the posted work (or each designer can have a set of all attributes for more pattern-seeking).
- After the attributes are posted use them to guide the discussion by asking why the poster put it there.
This method works well for pointed feedback and depending on the attributes can work well for pivoting, disruption, encouraging flexibility, and inserting the absurd—all of which can drive new ideas.
3. The 5 Whys
A great way to drill down deeper into the thinking behind the work and especially relevant for UX and experience design. Articulating reasons can cut through the fog of style and impulse. As it sounds, the 5 whys (or more than 5!) are asked consecutively and each answer forms the basis for more questions. This method is great for getting deep into the intention behind design decisions.
4. Speed-Dating Crit
This is a method originally from Tim Belonax. For speed-dating crit, arrange people in two circles, one circle inset to the other. The outer ring should move counter-clockwise while the inner ring moves clock-wise. Define a length of time for each interaction among a person from the outer ring and a person from the inner ring (i.e. 5 minutes, 7 minutes). As both rings rotate on schedule, each person in the group will have the opportunity to speak 1-on-1 with another individual. Presenters are given the opportunity to practice talking about the work over and over again, and after hearing feedback from a larger group of people, patterns and consensus tend to emerge. This is a great method for hearing from many people in a short amount of time, is good for folks who prefer 1-on-1 to larger group conversations, and good for practicing verbalizing the strategy and thinking behind the design.
5. Speed Crit
Brevity is the soul of crit! If you had just one thing to say about the work, what would it be? This method works well with groups, and following these two rules will help: comments or questions can’t be repeated and avoid opinion statements. Speed crit is great for a quick consensus. Analog methods of “voting” on work can be a great (and fun) way to engage critics with limited time (i.e. try colored dots, check marks, turning pages over). The speed crit method works well to ignite a stagnant process and it works well toward the end of a design process.
What has your experience with critique been? I’d love to heard about your favorite (and least favorite) methods—please contribute to my critique project by filling out the Google Form here.