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Form critique with love

15-06-2020Culture

No one wants to be criticised. It is important to distinguish the concepts of criticism and critique from each other. Opinion based criticism can crush all creativity where instead well reasoned critique can collectively improve the quality of design.

Pekka Oskari Puhakka

Senior Designer

A safe working culture isrequired for a designer to be ready to share their unfinished designs without the risk of losing ownership for the decision making over their design task. I will be describing the drivers for organising regularly design critique sessions. I will also describe the basis of a working culture in which designers can share their viewpoint what refers to ’good design’ all while maintaining their individual and subjective viewpoint to the topic.

A design critique session equals to resorting to another pair of eyes to take care of the design task. The designer's fatigue over their own work is a good reason why it is important to have an external view from time to time. It applies to a designer working alone as well as to a team of designers working together for a longer period. A design critique can be used to crowdsource where to which route the design could go next.

The Futurice 3x2 framework is a decision making framework. I will next refer to it to differentiate criticism from critique. Will the critique be handed in a form that affects the collegial relationship? Is the critique truly given for the benefit of the client? Is it possible to implement the fix in the given timeframe and with the budget available? Can the critique benefit future design projects? Or is it just your subjective viewpoint to begin with?

There are general signs of corroding criticism such as only finding the faults, concentrating constantly on the negative or acting without proper understanding of the bigger picture. And worst of all not focusing on the work but instead to the person behind it. Understanding the context and the person behind the design is important. A rule of thumb for delivering the critique is to start and end with a positive remark on some aspects in the design and add constructive feedback in the middle. Try maintain the minimum ratio of two constructive feedbacks to one positive remark.

Another way to approach the deliverance of constructive critique is to show empathy towards the colleague. Being honest with the aspects that might not work in the design and delivering it in a considerate manner. This is caring for your colleagues wellbeing and contributing to their professional growth. Designers do take their work personally. Some design decisions are less rational and hard to reason around. When suggesting an alternative viewpoint it could be just two individual viewpoints on the sidetracks. These expressions are acceptable when they are clearly framed correctly so that the designer can align their own subjective viewpoint to wether they agree. Rationale is usually king and is the base for constructive critique.

All design should be shared, critiqued or even criticised. Criticism is an effective tool for a community to gain a shared viewpoint by dividing itself, but a poor one to be used within the community as it also does divide individuals. A shared concept of ’good design’ makes it an easier topic for the community to be collectively discussed. Before a shared concept exists it is hard to approach the discussions as anything but individual viewpoints clashing. The leading designer, a collective of designers or an organisation where design is valued sets the benchmark for good design. This hegemony withstands for a shorter or longer period before being overtaken on a global or regional scale. Sharing a viewpoint also helps the community to diverge from that benchmark by still meeting the shared quality standards.

This is why sharing designs, views and viewpoints is important for improving the collective quality of design. Equally important it is to create a company culture where designers can feel safe to share designs. For a designer it all comes down to knowing that it is their viewpoint for the design task that matters in the end. The designers need to be willing to be challenged and when reasoned to change their minds or even admit of being wrong. It helps the designer to become more robust and truthful of their own design skills. Not being always correct does not make you a poor designer, but a better one.

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