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How to run a remote design critique

06-08-2020Ways of Working

Over the past months, I have had the chance to organise multiple design critiques in a remote environment. Here are a few things I’ve learned from the online sessions.

Pekka Oskari Puhakka

Senior Designer

There are essential differences between a remote and a traditional design critique that need to be taken into account to get the results you want. The tools used at a design critique held in-person usually include printouts, post-it notes, and dot stickers. Live sessions also always provide opportunities for 1-to-1 exchanges of thoughts between the participants.

Remote sessions are different. You can substitute printouts and post-its for on-screen presentation and native commenting tools or digital emulations of notes. But most commonly used conference tools do not support ad hoc 1-on-1 discussions during sessions. Usually, everyone is just yelling in a ‘room’.

Following is my advice for working around the shortcomings of the remote environment and getting the most out of your remote critique sessions.

Before Whatever can be done in advance instead of using remote session time should be done. Introduce the attendees to the designs as well as guidelines for giving critiques before each session. Use a collaborative tool with a low learning curve that fits the task. Specify a limited time window for the critique giving to avoid a flood of commentary and to give equal starting point to the session for each of the participants.

During A brief introduction is followed by an opportunity for each attendee to highlight what they consider their most important piece of critique. One by one. The discussion should take place right after each comment, and the rounds go on as long as needed.

Despite its shortcomings, video conferencing does support group discussion. The dynamics of the situation are different with the usual sound delays and connection breakages. It’s important to take clear turns and slow down the overall pace. Allowing every attendee a turn to go through their comments gives them the chance to lead the discussion. Being aware of the changing roles during the session is essential.

If you are limited availability for shared session time, a virtual session is possible. The discussion happens over a extended period of time inside each piece of commentary as a replies in a written form. Do note, that a ‘silent session’ requires more preparations and guidance as the attendees facilitate themselves.

A 1-to-1 exchange of thoughts during critiques is every bit as important as the critique itself. It opens the way for a deeper understanding than what can be read from a few lines of commentary. During the discussions, all attendees also gain new insights and ideas for their design projects. In the long run, this benefits the collective quality of the design. Without discussion, it’s just everybody saying whatever comes to mind.

Whichever kind of session you choose to run, be sure to reserve time to conclude and set action points and the next steps, so attendees feel that they have contributed to your work. And remember to thank everyone for participating.

After Decide how to best utilise the gained insights and ideas. It is important to follow-up with the participants regardless of whether session helped improve the design work or shifted it in to a new direction. Participants deserve to gain an understanding of their impact and, in my opinion, it helps continue the discussion of how critiques can make a difference. Analysing the impact on you in this way also enables you to understand the implications of the critique you may give on someone else’s work.

Summary Always keep in mind that human contact and all the small discussions are the most important and revealing part of a critique session. They are the key to success, so strive to create an atmosphere that encourages people to express their opinions. Follow these best practices, and you’re halfway there:

  • Don’t waste live conference time to a task that can be done in advance

  • Make an effort prior the session, reuse guidelines and introductories

  • Function both as the moderator and the recipient during the session

  • Resort to an external moderator to guide the session if you wish

  • Verbalise the action points as well as the aspects that you aim to keep

  • Maximise the shared learning experiencing by following up and sharing


For more info about how we approach remote work and how it can make organisatiosn more resilient, please check out our Remote Work page.

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