Healthy Critiques - The Golden Rule

We were treated to a surprise visit recently by one of our old classmates at college, and while catching up, had a wonderful conversation about design critiques. It served as a great refresher and a reminder that no matter how much we think we learn over the years, the basics are often a challenge to master.

Our guest brought up the “Golden Rule” of design critiques (the one that every freshman designer learns their first semester) which goes something like - don’t say that you like a piece or dislike a piece, explain that it “works” or “does not work”, because…X, Y, and Z. This trains a young designer to take the subjectivity out of a critique and focus on external factors, i.e. the user experience, intended audience, product requirements, inspiration, environment, client/brand values, etc. For example, “the choice of a metallized logo-plate ‘works’ here because of the brand’s industrial and premium aesthetic.” As, or perhaps more importantly, it begins a dialogue through which the originator may respond with their rationale, fostering healthy discussion.

It is so easy, among professionals, to forget this lesson and fail to make time for healthy dialogue within a team. When times get busy, I find that my teammates and I tend to zero-in on our own projects and don’t make the time to elicit feedback internally through this very simple exercise. The benefits are numerous. First, it challenges you to explain and defend a concept, making it easier to understand whether “it works” or whether its beauty is skin-deep. Multiple perspectives are a necessity for this. Secondly, and quite obviously, it improves the quality of the work. It allows for more iteration, more feedback, divergent ideas, and challenges the originator to refine. Lastly, I think it psychologically shares the feeling of ownership attributed to a piece. As a concept evolves to capture the feedback of the full team, each teammate may see their ideas embodied in some form. Thus, a final concept becomes less the victory of one creator and more of a win the whole team can participate in.  

Discussing this basic technique brought back many fond memories of old classmates, projects, and the collaborative culture we had back in college. I will be making an effort to bring more of this style of dialogue into our studio and am sure that it will lead to some great design.