Design Critique

and why is it important for a designer

Once I had a discussion with the head of strategy at my design firm about Design Critique. I was a strong believer of the fact that designers should be open to critique always and should be ego less. But he was against that idea, because he believed that ego was the integral part of the individuality of a designer. If designers didn’t have ego, there wouldn’t be any unique designs.

It was a great point being made. I had never thought about the importance of having ego as being a reason for the origin of unique design. I always thought ego to be the most unwanted element in the life of designer and because of which he/she becomes stubborn and creates the most stupidest mistakes.

Working as a designer in an experience design company, I hear the importance of design critique and peer reviews all the time. But it’s hardly practiced the right way. Just like brainstorming, peer reviews and design critique can cause havoc to the project if done the wrong way.

A few points on design critique-

1- Designers are scared of criticism.

Lets accept it, no one wants to be dealing with people who don’t appreicate your design. You might as well hope they rot in hell for what they say. Like every mom knows exactly all the weaknesses and strengths of her child, there is no one better than yourself who know the inside-out of your design. To be able to accept criticism you should be more confident and open. You should be able to screen the feedback for points to improve yourself and grow. If you are confident of what you do, you are willing to take up the wraths of the critic.

Suggestion- Designers need to be more confident of their work and should be willing to defend it. At the same time, if they realise they have made a mistake, just simply accept it. No one is perfect.

2- Designers get way too personal.

They believe that the entire intention of the criticism is to tarnish them and their thought process. The fact that a designer spends a lot of time creating a design, makes it more like their baby and they are not willing to let it be trashed by anyone. No mom would agree their baby is ugly looking. Similary no designer will agree to the flaws of their design.

I have seen the stubbornness of the designer lead to products being very complex and confuse the hell out of users, who end up giving up on the product. Situations like this can be avoided when the designer understands that it is not his/her skillset but the justification of the design that is being questioned here.

Suggestion- Designers need to understand the difference between critic and critique and should nourish the culture of critique and not critic. Errors, not matter who made them, needs to be pointed out and fixed.

3- Designer always think different.

Designers have problems adjusting with the social aspects of business management. They like/pretend to be loners. They hate the aspects of design constraints and business management, and they get all psyched when someone makes a comment about it. So They become way too vocal and eccentric when it comes to defending their design.

Ever tried asking a modernist artist about the reason why his/her painting looks like a drawing by a 6 year old? He would just simply give you a lot of BS about pain and suffering and emotions and when you say you still haven’t got it, he/she would denounce you as the most idiotic creature in the world who doesn’t get art at all. Now an artist can get away with it, since its art, but for a design, it will be catastrophic. Design needs critique to get better.

Suggestion- Make sure that the design critique is more towards the business intentions rather than a personal attack on the skillset of the designer. Meanwhile designers do need to understand the business and user aspects, or else they are just artists.

4- Designers are the only people who get it

Designers believe they are the only people who understands it. They dont accept that others can have a better thought process than a designer. Hence they dont appreicate being criticsed by others. Designers need to open up and embrace criticism.

I believe design is more of common sense, and the person who has it the most, designs the best. And many a times, it maynot be the person from the most reputed design school but a guy who learnt design online.

Suggestion- Designers need to accept that a design review session is to help improve the designers work and not to demoralise him/her. Try to get in as many people in the review who have a better rapport with the designer which helps in more empathy.

5- Not everyone can comment on my work

Designers fear that comments will be made about their designs without understanding the actual scenario. That any tom,dick and harry would not be allowed to made comments about the stuff you spent a lot of time designing. A very valid point it is. It’s more like the phrase, “opinions are like a**holes, everyone’s got one.” I have seen a fair amount of fellow designers and engineers like those, who just simply make a mess at reviews just for the sake of show offs. And yes, they should be kicked out of reviews. But many a times, its more to do with the designers ego that he/she feels terribly offended by critique from other designers.

Suggestion- The kind of people being part of a session of design review is very crucial, it needs to be controlled and made sure they are briefed about the project beforehand.

6- Thats not what I learnt at design school

Designers have very serious inclines towards certain schools of thought. I know designers who are Bauhaus to the heart, who are big time nietzsche fans, Norman’s heuristics fan. I even knew a guy who was a hardcore fan of his design school principal and believed what ever he learnt there is all that he is supposed to do. These schools of thought are a major factor when it comes to design reviews.

Suggestion- Make sure that the design review session has designers from multiple schools of thought. This helps maintain an unbiased review session. we need the ultrmodernist to the art deco traditionalist.

7- Designers are always threatened

Designers feel easily threatened when engineers and project managers question them. Designers believe they are the only people who appreciate design and that the world has pledged to act against them, meanwhile engineers think designers are a group of wierdos who come up with random useless ideas which make their life miserable. Hence the design reviews can always lead to the temperature in the room go high. Add an ethnographer to the team and you can be certain of a volcanic eruption.

Suggestion- Make sure the engineers and project managers who attend the design review understand design and are able to give constructive feedback. The engineer should not end up asking questions like, “why do we need to give so much attention to detail?” (Infact its a good exercise for the designer to try and convince that engineer about the importance of detail)

As a designer, I have seen the impact of design critique in all the projects I have worked. I make it clear to my design team also. I have pushed them to make sure that atleast 3 other designers in the studio should have seen their design and commented on it. It helps designers get over the ego part as well as get acquiated so that there is less friction between them during reviews.

Design critique is the very thin layer of seperation between a great design and something no one cares about.

“Critique don’t criticize.”A.D. Posey

Multi disciplinary Designer | Automobile freak | Illustrator | Wannabe Entrepreneur | Newbie Blogger | Good human being (my mom said so)

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