Boris Müller

Jan 11

12 min read

Design Critique Culture

Creating a professional culture for design feedback is an essential factor for the success of a project

Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509 — 1511

Purpose

Design critique is often regarded as utilitarian. In their book ‘Discussing Design’, Connor and Irizarry always emphasise the relevance of the overall project objectives for a critique. According to them, feedback should always be centred around the question: ‘how does this design support the overall goals of the project?’

Framing

A design critique is a focused discussion and analysis of an artefact resulting from an ongoing design process. Simply put: a designer gives a quick and concise presentation of her or his current work. After the presentation, colleagues give coherent and convincing feedback. The timing can vary — however, a presentation should not be longer than 15 minutes and the feedback should not exceed 45 minutes.

Language

I can’t stress this enough: design critiques must be conducted with the utmost level of respect and politeness while being clear and on point. This is tricky and it usually takes some experience to get it right.

Players

In a way, design critiques are a team sport. They are only successful if everyone is good at it. So, it is sensible to have a certain degree of consistency in the team. Furthermore, practice makes perfect. It is a good idea to establish regular feedback sessions with the team and encourage everyone to participate both as a presenter and as a contributor.

Trust

Designers are approval junkies. We love it when our designs are used, appreciated, and recognised. Good design is very personal work. We strongly identify with it.

Reasoning

The key element of a design critique is reasoning. Participants use visual and verbal arguments to provide reasons that support their observations. The aim of the contributors is to come up with a consistent, comprehensive description of observable shortcomings and possible solutions. Critiques are not about quick verdicts. Just stating that you like or dislike something is not the point of critique.

Reflection

Once the design critique is over, the presenters still have work to do. If you participated as a contributor, you can leave the critique and immediately switch your attention to other things. However, if you have presented your work, you should reserve some time after the critique and reflect on the feedback.

Leadership

Good design critiques require a certain amount of leadership. It starts with simply scheduling the critique. Not every designer is eager to present his or her work in front of the team — so somebody has to set up the meeting and distribute the roles. Ideally, design critiques should be regular events in a project plan.

Conclusion

Design critiques are both very challenging and very rewarding. They are about evaluating, examining and exploring aesthetics — but they are also a way to analyse, arrange and work out concepts and ideas.