Saturday, April 18, 2009

On critiques

Khoi Vinh talks about critiques (& lack there of). Thoughts?


monina said...

I completely agree with Khoi Vinh's thoughts about receiving constructive feedback from our peers. He writes, "The notion of speaking openly, honestly and objectively about work is inherent to learning how to be a better designer". I think that critiques are so essential to the development of design students. Hearing the suggestions and thoughts of my classmates gives me a better perspective on what others see in my work that I'm not necessarily seeing. I would much rather have someone honestly tell me that my work "is not there yet" than tell me that "it looks good" (when it really doesn't). That's how we learn– by detecting what's not working and figuring out how to make it work.

One of the things that I learned during my early experiences with critiques, is to not take any of the criticisms of my work personally. It might sound silly, but I still get a bit nervous during critiques when I have to present my work in front of people and hear what they think about it– it's quite a vulnerable position to be in. But I always say to myself, "They're not talking about you, they're talking about your work".

I love it when Khoi writes, "When we can separate the critique from the friendship– when we can hear the feedback without confusing it with the relationship– then we're getting somewhere." I really believe that that's the kind attitude we have here because I see the improvements that my classmates make on their projects based on the comments and suggestions they the received from the critique. So, at least here, I believe we're getting somewhere.

Adam Tramposh said...

When you've worked with the same group of people for a while, you inevitably start to get a sense that you know what to expect from them. These kind of preconceptions can sometimes really dampen critical insight.

I've been a consistently A minus student for much of my time here, and sometimes I feel like that's hard to shake -- like that grade is stamped in scrawling red sharpie on everything that I pin up on critique day, regardless of how much (or less) extra effort I put into it.

But GPA aside, if I really put a lot into a piece and somebody recognizes that and makes mention of it, I'll feel affirmed in having gone through that extra round of revisions, and therefore more likely to continue doing say. The same goes for the less successful pieces -- yes failure hurts, but part of learning is boldly experimenting while not being overly concerned with failing. It's necessary to be held accountable for producing substandard work, because the alternative means being comfortable with mediocrity.

Eppelheimer said...

Populist CritiqueMost of the post responses on subtraction are about the lack of good personal critique out there in the work world. But towards the end of the post, Khoi talks about design in relationship to art, film and architecture. All of the artifacts from those professions can exist independent of clients in many senses and have a direct impact on a larger populace. The critiques of a film or house can be about the thing itself and what it says to that larger populace or larger experience. Popular culture understands the basic syntax of art, film and architecture, enough to engage in public critique.

Only the design subset of usability in interaction design has achieved similar heights of populist critique, but unfortunately, design is often the scapegoat in these critiques, the Nielsens of the world advocating sterile, repetitive, navigation and layout models for all interactive design, ignoring the emotional content that design carries.

Graphic design has a smaller public profile, and despite having more prevalence due to it's ubiquity on the many products, documents and interfaces we come in contact with everyday, is relatively invisible as a profession. But, this is slowly changing...

Rick Poynor and Steven Heller have done much to bring design and visual culture to a populist audience and graphic design is known by many many more people than when I was in undergrad in the late 80s. The New York Times carried articles about the typeface Gotham and the redesign of the AT&T logo and the Wall Street Journal recently profiled Comic Sans, of all things. So maybe Khoi's vision of a populist and professional critique class isn't as far off as he imagines.

Personal CritiqueRegarding critiques of the work that I produce, I've found that my best friends or bosses (meaning "principals", not the designer just above you) tend to make the strongest critiques. Colleagues in school or work environments (especially in larger companies) tend to be too soft due to the collegial quality of the relationships, and smoothing over bumps is rote in most instances to keep a cordial, quiet, workplace environment . Or, they can be underhanded, aggressive and mean depending on circumstance.

With true friends, they want to see you succeed as much as you do, and bosses want you to win awards in their names and make sure clients pay the design bills!

Inevitably, critiques with the above mentioned result in better, more thoughtful, more appropriate design. So the trick is to find people to bounce work off of that have a stake in who you are or what you do, and will tell it like it is.

Just make sure you frame your requests to get the right type of critique: formal (how can this look better), conceptual (is this saying what I want it to say), ergonomic (is this legible, readable, usable). In the best cases, a combination of all!

Also, leave your ego and pride at the door when listening to critique, but put it back on (in a big way) when doing revisions and giving presentations.