Critique is a foundational part of design education and professional practice.
In one sense, design critique is simple: it’s just the process of evaluating others’ work and ideas. However, there is definitely an art to giving and receiving a meaningful critique.
History of Critique
Nervous about critique? You’re not alone. The critique process is likely as old as art itself. Creating something new has always lent itself to generating feedback and interest. Charlotte Frost, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong, gives some context of the first mentions of art critique in the Western world:
One of the earliest recorded ‘art critics’ was British artist Jonathan Richardson the Elder. He wrote a number of books in the 1700s which featured the term ‘art criticism’ and which set out a method for assessing the quality of a painting. In fact, he created a scorecard that featured seven criteria anyone could use to judge art. His methods coincided with a rise in art appreciation amongst the middle-classes and contributed new ways of talking about art.
A Modern Crit
Fortunately, in classroom today you won’t be judged by a scorecard, but everyone will be entitled to give you feedback. Here’s how a critique typically works. It’s structured for an individual or group of students to present the work, in addition to talking about the process and intended outcomes of the work. Then other students and the teacher give feedback. Likely, students who are giving feedback will also need to present their work and hear it critiqued, too. A good teacher or mentor will create an environment where there is trust and respect.
How to Handle a Critique
When you’re the one in the hotseat, here are a few helpful reminders for how to handle a critique.
Listen to Feedback: Your main job during a critique is to listen. Do not interrupt someone’s critique or be defensive. Let them share their feedback and take notes. If possible, have a classmate take notes for you so that you can fully listen.
Thank the Person Giving You Feedback: While you can feel vulnerable when your work is critiqued (especially if you don’t agree with the feedback or your work is unfinished), it’s always an act of generosity for someone to care enough to listen to your work and think critically about it. Thank them.
Place the Feedback in a Bucket: After you listen to the feedback, mentally put it into a one of three buckets: 1.) accept, 2.) reject or 3.) reflect further. Sometimes you get feedback that you know you’d like to think about or incorporate. But sometimes you might not initially know what to do with your feedback. Either reject it or decide to reflect on it. Put your feedback in a bucket so you can go back to it later (jot it down in your notes). You need to do this quickly and instinctively so you can be ready to listen and hear from the next commenter.
Tips for Giving a Critique
Focus on the Work: It’s easy to feel defensive if you’re presenting work. Make sure that your comment is about the work and not the person. Limiting how often you say “you” will help the listener relax and open up.
Assign Roles: It can be helpful for different people giving critique to play roles. Assign someone to be the devil’s advocate or another to ask rapid-fire questions. That way, the person receiving the feedback will know the roles and expect feedback in certain ways from certain people. It’s a good challenge for people giving critique to try a new style.
Ask Why: Even though it’s not your intent, making assumptions about someone else’s work happens. Asking why can help uncover interesting insights and help you pause before you assume. Allowing the presenter to presenter talk through what they might not have said aloud before can be a great gift.