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Design without critique is like a flower without water (#uxce13 version)
Designwithout critiqueis like a ﬂower without waterPetr Stedry, UX DesignerMy name is Petr Stedry, I work as a UX Designer for GoodData a Business Intelligence cloud platform.Today I would like to help you improve your designs through critique.
Imagine your child is 5 years old and learning to write on his own.
Says “DRINKING REGIME”And one day he shows you this. What will be your reaction?What kind of feedback will you give him?
A) Wow! Thats fantastic.You are really good atwriting!Will you praise him for his good skills?
B) Good job!The letters are wellspaced and straight.But look, the N and Zare ﬂipped.Or will your feedback be more speciﬁc like this?
Who thinks B is better?... the N and Z are ﬂippedActually A is what most people do to their kids. They want them to feel good.But B is a much better feedback for the child as it can use it to improve his skills.The same approach is great for your design as well. If you want to improve, you have to use critique
CritiqueWhat is it? What it is not?Why should I care?To be able to use critique to improve your design, you need to know what it is,what it is not and why it matters.
No, I don’t want you to read a wikipedia page.That wouldnt help you understand.Lets look at an example. Or rather a counter example.
You are probably familiar with one setting, where critique usually does not occur.Design review meetings.You know them, right?
You would like the design review meeting to be more like supermarket.You get in with a design and get out with a list of things to be improved.And everyone one is happy! No?
But it is usually more like in a gallery.You bring the art and the stakeholders either like it or don’t.Or worse. They are trying to offer improvement suggestions.
So what is critique anyway? A systematic and detailed analysis.Critique is about critical thinking. Challenging the status quo and not blindly accepting the world as it is.Thinking like Sherlock Holmes. The hero of my youth.
ArgumentArgumentArgumentArgumentArgumentArgumentAt the heart of critique is an argument.But not all arguments are created equal.
The weakest arguments are opinion without any backing or reasoning.You can agree or disagree with them depending on how much they match your opinion.But that will not make them useful beyond expressing your feelings.
< Opinion Strong Argument >Then there are the weak arguments – based on inductive reasoning, consensus or analogies.“That horizontal menu worked well on that site, so it will work on our too.”Arguments like this are pretty common and quite weak.
< Opinion Strong Argument >A strong argument – in design – is based on research, results of usability testing or other forms of research.I personally am looking for research papers and try to spend as much time in usability tests as possible.
Preparing for critiqueTo get most of the critique session, you should prepare yourself in advance.There are a few things you can do. Start with ...
Accept that your design is not perfectAccept that your design is not perfect. I have a story to tell ...A long time ago, I was a JAVA programmer.My job was to design and implement an optimal technical solution to a problem.
O (n²)In programing it is so easy to measure what approach is best.I got taught at school how to compute the asymptotic time complexity of an algorithm. Those were times.
I began to move from programming to design in 2004 when I was working as a contractor for Skoda Auto, the car manufacturer.I tried to continue with what I had learned. When the requirements arrived, I tried hard to produce the optimal user interface.When the negative comments came, I was mostly defending my "optimal" solution, looking for arguments to support it.
Accepting critique seemed like admitting failure.Failure to design the optimal solution on my own.
Wrong50 %Right50 %Dont be like that past me. Dont defend your solution.Accept, that you might only be right 50% of the time. Use critique to uncover what is good and what it wrong in your design.
Set your expectationsIn order to be able to accept the critique, you also need to set your expectations right.
Do you need a hug?Then go to your or mother. She loves you and will comfort you if you ask for it.
Or post your work on Behancé. This screenshot shows the typical type of feedback you will receive.Isn’t that the digital equivalent of a hug?Havent heard much critique from either of these two sources, though.
Did you just want to show off your supreme design skillz?Nothing wrong with that. Why not.But it won’t work as a critique session.
Its not about your ego. Its about improving the design, remember.Only call for critique if you want your design improved.This has to be your main motivation.
Prepare the designFor you the design is probably "your child" you nurtured for several days, weeks or even months.It IS hard to accept critique.The design needs to be prepared.
The strength of the relationship between you and the design depends on the amount of labor you put in.Its called the IKEA effect.
You can also observe this phenomenon when you have kids.Your feelings are so strong for them because of the extraordinary amount of work you invested into raising them.In design though, there is one easy way to minimize its effect. Start with critique as soon as possible.
Forget long hours in photoshop to polish a design.Whenever you can, critique pencil sketches created in a few minutes.You will be much less attached to them.
Share the contextFor other people to be able to critique a design effectively, they need to know what you know …
Without this information, you cannot objectively evaluate the quality of the design.It would be the same as if you were wandering around city on a foggy day, unable to see most of its beauty and ﬂaws.And someone would ask you: “How do you ﬁnd this city?”. You would be unable to answer.
Share Personas, Scenarios and any other user research you’ve based your work on.It is important, that this information is not only presented, but also well understood by all participants of the session.
But you do not want the critics to follow you in your footsteps.Just show them where did you intend to go - what were your design goals and constraints
A-ha!You need them to form their own opinion!They need to experience that “aha” moment.
This means, try not to explain your design decisions!I know this sounds hard. And it is.But try to avoid that.
The critique sessionIn the second part I will focus on the critique session itself.If the people participating in the session are not well versed in critique, you will need to moderate.And when you do, make sure they follow these guidelines.
Be speciﬁcAre you trying to get feedback on something speciﬁc?Then say what it is.You want to hear arguments about the paper on the package or the ribbon?
If people get too far from what you want criticised, nudge them back to the topic.Keep the target in sights or you lose the battle :)
Lets say you got a page like this in a critique session.A simple homepage.What kind of feedback do you think will work best?
B) I dont think these menu items will work.C) I dont think the these two menu item labels do not match with the expectations of the targetC. I think the these two menuitem labels do not match withthe expectations of the targetaudience.You see, that the more speciﬁc your feedback is, the better are the constraints you reveal to the designer.
+–Critique usually starts with negative feedback, at least where I come from. That’s why its percieved as something bad ... asnitpicking. But do not stop there, critique is impartial analysis.It should help you discover what is good as well as what is bad about a design.
Positive feedback tells you what should be kept and improved. Negative feedback tells you what needs to be simpliﬁed, changedor removed.Always strive to achieve a balance between negative and positive feedback. Nothing in design is all wrong or perfect.
People don’t need a map hereImagine how you would feel if you only heard negative feedback to this map?Something along the lines of: "I think people do not need a map to ﬁnd your restaurant.".Would you feel the urge to remove it?
People don’t need a map hereLocation at a glanceHow would your feelings change if you also heard this positive feedback?Something like: "Its great to have a way how to quickly tell where your restaurant is".Does it make a difference?
At the end of my workshops, participants try Design Studio. A collaborative, iterative design workshop.
Who heard about Design Studio?I am curious who heard about Design Studio.
Who tried Design Studio?Is there anyone who had the chance to try it with clients or colleagues?
I like ...I don’t like ...When trying to criticise the sketches of their peers at the workshop, many people start with "I like", "I dislike".Those are opinions, remember? The weakest arguments, that completely disregard the target group the design is created for.The design was not created for your eyes only!
BANBan "I like"! Ban the emotional response. Encourage people to refer to the personas, target groups or whatever resemblance ofthe customer you have.Banning the emotional response will help you to create a design, with the people in mind. And keeps the discussion impersonal.What do I mean by impersonal?
I don’t like your design!(in a resolute voice) "I DONT LIKE YOUR DESIGN"How do you feel?How does this comment change your behavior?Do you want the dialog to continue?
Probably not.You will either get passive or defend yourself.And this is exactly what are you trying to prevent during the critique session.
You need people to feel safe. You need them to be willing to share any feedback.And when the feedback comes, you should "ack-app-cap" it.
Do you know who this guy is?There was interesting research by Dan Ariely that measured the effect of acknowledgment on the willingness to work.
Note: The following material is from the “Beginners guide to irrational behavior” by Dan Ariely on Coursera. All rights reserved.People were given sheets of random letters and they were asked to ﬁnd pairs. They got paid for each sheet.
In the ﬁrst condition, people were asked to sign the paper in the top right corner.And were asked to deposit the each sheet at a table. The person sitting at the table acknowledged them by saying “A-ha”.
In the second condition, people delivering the sheets were completely ignored by the person at the table.
In the third condition, the person at the table took the sheet of paper and put it into a shredder without looking at it.
People in the “shredder” condition completed about 6.5 sheet on average.
People in the “acknowledged” condition completed more than 9 sheets.
People in the “ignored” condition completed almost the same number of sheets as in the “shredded” condition.As you see, it is quite important to acknowledge and appreciate the feedback you receive. Failure to do so will result indramatically less feedback.The easiest way to appreciate something is to say "Thank you".
Good point. Thanks!My own “mantra”You all have a way how to appreciate other humans. So do not forget to use it during critique sessions.My own mantra is "Good point. Thanks!". Feel free to use it too :)
Even with all this feedback you receive it will be hard to use it to improve the design if you do not capture it.Write everything down.If you are not able to take notes during the session, ask someone to do it for you.
Red Green BlueI presume you heard about cognitive dissonance - the state that occurs when you are presented with information that goesagainst your beliefs.This is a nice example of it. Your eyes are telling you something else than your brain.You won’t probably want to read this text as it makes you uncomfortable.
Do you think you can remember everything clearly?That you do not need to write things down?You are probably right at ﬁrst.But as time moves on, your memory will remove or twist the dissonant information. And in the end it might look like youropponent actually praised your design.
Buy red and green markers and carry them with you everywhere you go.And use them as often as possible.
Annotate the arguments directly into the design itself so the feedback sticks to the design.
Don’t be afraid to end the discussionAny argument also has to be presented in such a way that is understandable by all other people that take part in critique.If they do, there is (usually) no point in repeating it.Let me tell you a story about this ...
Once, I had a meeting with a client ...No, not like this.
More like this.The client paid for my critical opinion on a design they got from another agency.We sat down, went from the information architecture down to each page in detail. We got to a point where he started to defendhis point of view.He repeated his arguments.I waited for him to ﬁnish and said: "We both presented our arguments. You know my opinion and I will not add anything to it atthis point. Lets continue with the next page."He paused for a moment and replied with: "Thats professional.".And we moved on.
Its pointless to repeat arguments.Say what you have to and move on.
Questions?Source for all images - internet. All rights reserved.
Prepare for critique‣ Accept your design is not perfect‣ Set your expectations‣ Prepare the design‣ Share the context
During the session‣ Limit the scope & be speciﬁc‣ Positive and negative feedback‣ Ban "I like" and keep it impersonal‣ Ack-App-Cap‣ End when you run out of argumentsThere was a lot said in this presentation.So how do you use it to improve your designs?
What are you worst at?Think about how you approach critique.What are you worst at?
What could you do really fast?What could you start doing really fast?
Pick one technique in each of these categories.And write an e-mail to the future you asking if you already achieved these two goals and how did you improve.You can use futureme.org a free service, that does exactly that - send you an e-mail at the point in time in the future of yourchoosing. I suggest you put it at least one year in the future so you forget that you sent it in the meantime.
You can reach me firstname.lastname@example.org | @vorkronor | delicious.com/vorkronorThank you :)GoodCamping