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Lots of Questions: Giving Good Design Critique

Alexa Herasimchuk

Most of the audience is engineers, we think design and engineering are completely different from each other, but in reality they have many parallels. Probably the most important insight is that designers and engineers are both trained with specific practices their communities have developed over time, and found to help them more effectively solve problems. Most of you are here today because you want to accomplish more in your careers. We're here to share a very fundamental practice from the design community so you can have a more substantive and constructive impact on the design of the products you work on.

Alexa Herasimchuk

alexaleighh.com

Product Designer, Yelp

Design Critique

What is design critique, how does it work, why does it matter? All very important questions. Actually, a good place to start is to compare design critique vs code reviews. They are actually quite similar in that they are a collaborative process designed in order to improve the overall quality of something… But critique is fairly unique, so in order to dive deeper into understanding it, I’ll start by talking a little bit myself and my background

I studied Graphic Design at an art and design school in San Francisco, California at California College of the Arts. This is a view from the outside…

But inside… the school is filled with students, work up on the walls, getting feedback on their projects. And while attending design school -- you soon realize the school is built around constant critique. We had critiques just about every class period, in one way or another. It’s really collaborative.

Critique = feedback session

Simply put -- critiques are just feedback sessions. But that doesn't make them easy. You have to know how to give good design critique and know how to receive it.

That’s me!

Thesis midterm, Fall 2014

And while in school, this can be a particularly hard thing to get right. Why? Because you’re often working on projects that are really personal to you, solving problems that you care a lot about. If not done right, critique can easily feel hurtful, like your thoughts or ideas are being attacked.

Critiques aren’t about you

But the most important thing to remember about critiques are that they are not about you. Anytime you are designing or building something, it is never about you, it’s about other people. If you can remember that, then you can remember why getting feedback on your work is so important. Not any one of us can solve problems on our own, we need the perspectives of other people, often very different people than us, to create good work.

Critique Rules

Critique can get kind of messy sometimes so there needs to be rules in place that everyone follows so the feedback is valuable. Not too long ago, a Product Designer by the name of Tanner Christensen wrote an article on the 4 rules of critique. Link below:

https://medium.com/facebook-design/critique-is-an-important-part-of-any-design-process-whether-you-work-as-part-of-a-team-or-solo-ef3dcb299ce3#.irrzf5kyg

Establish clear roles

Ensure everyone understands and agrees on the problem

Focus on feedback,
not criticism

Laptops and phones
stay closed

1

2

3

4

This article was a huge inspiration to me and has helped us better shape our critique culture at Yelp.. This article is sourced at the end of the workshop file in case you want learn more.

Rule 1: Establish clear roles

Presenter: Communicate to the group what problem you are trying to solve, project goals and challenges; present the potential solutions

Audience: Ask lots of questions, critique objectively

Facilitator: Keep the group on track and take notes for the presenter

The Presenter

Presenter: Communicate to the group what problem you are trying to solve, project goals and challenges; present the potential solutions

The Audience

Audience: Ask lots of questions, critique objectively

The Facilitator

Facilitator: Keep the group on track and take notes for the presenter

Rule 2: Understand and agree on the problem

I am showing early/mid/late work

around the problem because
why it’s a problem and am looking for feedback around specific focus for feedback

Formula to help your audience understand the problem:

I am showing [early/mid/late] work

around [the problem] because

[why it’s a problem] and am looking for feedback around [specific focus for feedback]

I am showing early work around expanding our gender support during onboarding because our current sign up process only supports male/female gender options and I am looking for feedback around selecting between the different genders.

Rule 3: Focus on feedback, not criticism

Now criticism and critique are very different ways of thinking… I will give some examples:

TEARS DOWN

“I don’t like ______”

+

BUILDS UP

“Have you thought about ______?”

Criticism tears down — Critique builds up

PASSES JUDGEMENT

“That decision is bad”

+

POSES QUESTIONS

“Why did you make that decision?”

Criticism passes judgement — Critique poses questions

PERSONAL

“I don’t like that color”

+

OBJECTIVE

“That color isn’t working because…”

Criticism is personal — Critique is objective

Audience, frame your sentences

As you can see language and phrasing play a big role in design critique. So it’s important that the audience frames their sentences correctly while giving feedback.

+

This is working because…

–or–

This is not working because…

Saying “I don’t like this red button” is a weak message. While saying “This red button doesn't work because it doesn't contrast well with the background.” is a much more meaningful statement

While attending Design school, I had a teacher who required us to start our sentences in critique in one of these two ways. If we slipped, he would make us start over until we got it right. It was very powerful and to this day it has been one of the most memorable lessons that I learned from school. I use this technique all the time at work now and has helped me so much.

+

Ask (lots of) questions!

Anytime yours asking a question, you are doing design critique right. Asking questions help us uncover the why, the how and the how come to why anything should be created in the first place. Asking questions make us think and question: “Am I even still solving the problem?”

Rule 4: Laptops and phones stay closed

And the last rule is rule #4. Laptops and phones must stay closed. The presenter is already putting themselves in a vulnerable spot asking for feedback, so make sure to stay engaged and respect them during the entirety of the critique.

I know from experience, it takes time to get comfortable with this process but at least for now you have the framework to get started. I truly believe understanding the fundamentals of giving and receiving good design critique go way past the design process. Yes, critique can help you communicate better with the designers on your team but it can also help with communicating better in code reviews. But maybe even more importantly I have found design critique to help me better solve problems I run into, in my everyday life. And with that, I’ll hand it over to Frances who will teach us how to build something that could benefit from a design critique.

Questions?

Send me an email: alexah@yelp.com

Some Useful Links

GHC 2016: Giving Good Design Critique - Google Slides