“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse
One reason critique is different from a “design walk through” is because it takes place after or near the completion of a project rather than in the middle of the process. Critique is similar to a post-mortem meeting, also known as a debrief or retrospective except that critiques are more specifically focused on the work by a specific Presenter(s) or team.
When we critique we go beyond internal processes and opportunities to increase production or workflows.
Let me outline a successful formula for useful critiques. When done well this format is useful because everyone participating in the critique learns a lot.
- Select a moderator
- Presenter(s) then briefly presents the work that is being critiqued
- Next, the Presenter(s) must simply listen while Participants take turns sharing their feedback using the following structure: The verbal feedback should be structured in a “sandwich”. Start with something positive and successful about the work. Then, share something critical, with some suggestions for improvements. Finally end with something positive again.
- Critique Presenter(s) do not defend or say anything except thank you
- If a Participant has a specific question that they need to have answered to perform the critique there is an exception. Presenter(s) may answer specific questions but can not engage in defending or extraneous explaining.
- Everyone participating in the critique also provides 3 written notes at the end for the presenter. These are often anonymous and are very useful take aways.
- Finally, it is useful to critique the work of several projects per session. For example, there may be 3 designers asking to have their work critiqued. Two have websites they wish to have reviewed and the third has an upcoming talk that they would like to have critiqued. That makes for a productive critique session.
Everyone participating is going to have many opportunities to learn.
It takes a lot of courage to have your work critiqued but the rewards are huge! These are important opportunities to improve your various skill sets. Participants are showing up to help you. The bigger win is that they all end up helping each other in the process. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is important for design teams to teach each other so our weaknesses become stronger. Plus, who doesn’t like the benefit of gaining improved skills and abilities? 💥
Whether you’re just getting started with critiques or you’ve been running them for years, try this formula. If your teams use a different formula I’d love to hear about it and I’d love to know how it is working for you. Promote success and continuous learning through collaboration for your teams. The most valuable employees appreciate working in an environment where they have the opportunity to improve their skill sets and can also contribute to helping others level up.
Lastly, it is amazing how much empathy and communication is boosted through this process. Designers, project managers, engineers, product owners, visual designers, QA teams and UX leaders all benefit from the process.