Preparing for a Critique

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No matter what kind of design you specialize in, critiques are an essential part of the design process, and they continue to be important long after you flip your tassel at college graduation. As professional designers, we’re constantly being critiqued by team members, colleagues and clients, and although it’s scary to present work that you’ve spent so much time on, a fresh perspective can make all the difference in taking your design from good to great. In this blog, we’re going to share a few ways to prepare and get the most out of your critiques.

  • Volunteer to go first

    Be ready, and volunteer to go first. You’ll be able to relax and enjoy listening to your classmates feedback if you don't have the nerves of your own critique on your mind. Also, at the beginning of class your classmates are still engaged in the process and you will get a lot of great feedback before zombies take over the classroom. 

  • Check your feelings at the door

    This tip seems obvious, but as designers we have an emotional connection with our work and it's easy to get defensive when others try to challenge the direction we’ve taken to solve a design problem. It’s important to put your own biases aside. You do not need to agree with everything that is discussed during your crit, but listen closely to the feedback provided and absorb information to make the best decisions for your project moving forward. Although it sometimes feels like it, we promise, everyone is not ‘out to get you’.

  • Explain your design

    “Uh, here’s my design.” (insert big awkward silence from the class) Can you picture this classmate? The one who never prepares for critiques and never takes them seriously. We get it, nerves can get the best of you, but it’s important to explain your design and the steps you took to get to the result you’re sharing. Design is a series of small-decisions that lead to an end solution, so it’s also important to share the steps you tried that you feel didn’t work.

    Here’s a few questions to ask yourself that may help you explain your design:

    • Why have you made the design decisions you have made?
    • What has driven you in this project?
    • Have you covered the key important elements of design and requirements?
    • If you had one more week, how would you improve your project?
    • Identify the break through moment in your project. At what part of your process allowed big advancements in your design and what did you learn about your process?

    Pro Tip: Feeling defensive can be natural response, however give your reviewer the benefit of good intent and don't get defensive. If you are having trouble understanding the feedback respond by asking questions and show that you are interested and willing to accept criticism and new ideas.

  • Prepare to be questioned...and come with questions

    As we mentioned before, different perspectives are important in taking your design from good to great. Prepare yourself for opposing questions from the professionals reviewing your project and your instructor. Challenge yourself to think about your project from multiple angles and why you chose the solution you did. If someone asks you a question and you are not sure of the answer, be honest and say you haven’t considered that option.

    It's also important to come to your critique with questions of your own. Is there something you haven't been able to solve yourself? You now have a room full of professionals and peers to help you make decisions. Having questions available is another way to show you value the reviewers and their advice.

  • Don’t wait to continue working

    This is one of the most important tips to consider to get the most out of your critique. Don’t wait until weeks after your crit to continue working on your project. Make changes while your reviewers' feedback is fresh in your mind. If you wait too long you may forget what was discussed and loose the inspiration and energy from your review.

  • Do a mini-critique before the real critique

    Choose a couple of classmates and share your designs with them before actual critique day. They may bring a fresh set of eyes and perspectives to you project that leads to a better final solution. Or if they love it as is, you’ll have a boost of confidence walking into critique day! Also, take advantage of your professor's office hours and schedule a time to talk through solutions and reaffirm the design decisions already made. A professor's guidance can be critical when you're experiencing a "design block" and just need a little direction.

  • Time management is key

    Let’s face it, it’s embarrassing to show work that you frantically threw together last minute and are not proud of. Take advantage of all your studio hours and manage your time before a critique. Set up a personal timeline for your project and make sure you’re completing each step in a timely manner. Also, allow yourself extra time to read through all the project requirements and make sure your final design follows all the criteria.  

  • Engage in others critiques

    Listen carefully to other student's critiques and learn from them. But it's also keep in mind that your project is completely different from theirs. Don't take in the keywords that reviewers are sharing with your peers and try to change your presentation last minute or your may focus more on the things you think you need to add to your presentation than what you prepared and is actually relevant to your project.