Group Crits: A Primer, Part II: My Responsibilities and You
Specifically, the crits I facilitate.
Hello, students of UXA! New and old! Students in general! Or to anyone who happens to be reading this for some reason! I’m Robbin and I run design critiques for Designlab’s UX Academy program on the weekends, and I love this gig. It is my hope that you’ll find the hour we have together useful.
This series of articles will tell you the goals of the group crit, what you can expect from me, a short list of crit-awesome questions, what I expect from you, and why I do certain things in my crits.
10 Things You Can Expect from Me
- At the beginning of every critique, I will ask if anyone absolutely needs to be able to present during the session. Ideally, I would like folks to get to a point where they want to. It’s not a matter of volunteering — it’s a matter of making sure you’re on the right track, and getting feedback from your peers is the first step.
- Everyone will get a chance to speak. Smaller sessions mean we can tackle more projects. I usually have large sessions, but will make sure that everyone presents, gives feedback, or both.
- Importantly: it is okay to interrupt as long as you do it politely (see: facilitating). And by politely, I mean, “Sorry, could we pause here for a second? I have a question about this part while we’re talking about it.” The goal of this isn’t to have you finish presenting. Honestly, in interviews and design reviews, you are likely going to be interrupted a bunch and you’ll only get through the first screen of your prototype and you’ll just feel bad (…yeah that…totally did not happen to me…not at all…ha…hahaha).
- For those presenting, keep in mind: do you have built-in pauses? I know, I know. This isn’t one of those things where you have to go through a whole slideshow in front of your entire class or a boardroom full of stakeholders. But start learning this skill now. Know which parts of the project you’re presenting. Give yourself a few seconds of silence, or just ask if the others have any questions on how you got there before moving on. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people look like they want to say something, but then wait toward the end when everyone is there to say the same thing (note: also good feedback because now you have lots of people who agree on something that is good or could stand to be changed). I haven’t mentioned this in group crits yet, but I will start to the next time I hold one.
- I will ask you what you are working on currently in the UXA program. Please don’t say “week 4”…that means nothing to me since I can’t tell who’s part-time and who’s full time. Tell me that you’re working on wireframes, that you’re waiting on research, that you’re going into high-fidelity, that you need help choosing the next project.
- There will always be 10 seconds of awkward silence after a presentation before I call on someone to make a comment. UX design is the physical manifestation of the critical thinking questions that were asked in those English literature classes you may or may not have had long ago. It’s okay to respond with, “I need a second to formulate my response,” but I do not want to hear “I have nothing to say”. No design is perfect. We all know this. The point of design is to keep improving, and if you feel like something is going well, it’s being able to defend your position of why you think it’s good as it is now. (And I hope that it is coming from your research, and not because you felt that it was right. If you’re working on making your process understood, you want to avoid that answer at all costs.)
- I will ask you to present even if you are working on research and there’s nothing to show visually. Your findings are important, and I will ask you about it because you should know what you’re going to do with that research next. One of the toughest parts for me during project time at work is knowing when it’s the right time to go onto the next stage, if I need to do more research, or if it’s time to kill the project because there’s no clearly defined problem. Your results may feel intuitive and obvious, but if you were working on a topic that you didn’t know about at all, everything will sound like new information to you, right? Put yourself in that mindset. It’s okay to have a hypothesis of what you think people will say, but it is not okay to make assumptions for them. You have research. Your designs are informed. You need to make this clear when you’re presenting to a stakeholder, an interviewer, or when you’re in a regular design review.
- If you’re new, I will ask you questions to make sure you’re getting critiques based on the skill you want to improve the most. What is your background? What are some of your design strengths (I believe there’s a list somewhere, but if you’re unsure, take a look at the curriculum)? What is a topic you want to make sure you have strengthened by the end of UXA? What is your ideal role once you finish UXA — is it specific (“I would love to be in research”) or general (“I just want to do it all”)? Knowing these helps me direct the conversation toward something you want to do better.
- My critiques are always being iterated with new information from work, from senior designers, from design recruiters, all the dozens of other people I know in the field, and from recent articles. I treat my sessions like I treat my work .I sit and jot down a few notes after each session to see what worked and what didn’t. I take those to the next session. Rinse and repeat.
- I am happy to answer your questions about almost anything, and I appreciate any and all feedback about the session. But remember to take my answers…and maybe all answers…with a grain of salt. There are no facts in UX design, only opinions, and everything is up in the air. But I will try to give you a straight answer based on my own experiences, with the caveat that you may face a different situation. And of course, feedback is fuel. It can only help improve sessions to come.
I hope that helps! Up next, I’m working on a short list of questions that I hope you’ll try to ask during a critique. This will also include questions I would like to avoid in order to maximize the critique time for everyone. Thanks for reading!
I’m Robbin, and I was on the full-time track in the Ive cohort of UX Academy. I work at Udemy, an online education marketplace. I’ve been here for four years, starting in support, and I worked on several projects utilizing design techniques to improve everything from support process flows to understanding and improving work flows between remote and home teams. The work I do focuses on how information is shared and developing efficiency. I’m also doing part-time work with the product design team, where I do pretty much everything I’ve learned in Designlab and support (plus a little more) to get user-facing and internal projects to a point where they can be tested live.
On weekends I run design crits with Designlab, and I am also about to start an internship with UXBeginner as a content strategist and UX writer. I know a lot of designers, and I have plans to start a podcast aimed specifically at students in the UX field who don’t know how to navigate the waters, as well as people who are considering a UX career but don’t know much about it.