The Critic

What is a design critique session?

Think of it as a session of peer review with your colleagues who can bring a fresh design perspective to the project and might have faced similar design challenges in a different context. We want to raise the bar, move towards excellence with the support of our colleagues.

A critique session should be used to deeply analyse the product and provide helpful advice.

Why do we conduct a critique session?

“People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things–in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing.” Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar.

This is the space where we get that fresh perspective by ‘fostering creativity through candour’. We are adopting some tried and test practices from the Brain Trust format of Pixar.

We will aim to be frank and honest while sharing ideas, opinions and criticism.

Critique Format

We are adopting closely from the critique session at Figma

Step 1: Set up

Get your presentation ready and make sure everyone has a digital space to take notes so that it can be shared easily. It's a good idea to go through the format of the session once.

Step 2a: Host team sets the context and presents the work (10-15 mins)

What is the project about?

What point of the project are you at?

What is up for feedback? What is the function of this feature/product/design?

What do we know about the feature/product/design? (user's needs, business goals, projects goals)

What do we not know about the feature/product/design? (known unknowns)

What do you want to improve? What should the critics focus on? (Sessions goals)

Step 2b: Critics take notes while the team presents.

What is working? Why?

What is not working? Why?

Points and questions out of the scope of the current session

Step 3: Clarifying Questions (2-5 mins)

This is important because if one person is confused, it is likely others are as well. You want questions clarified before folks jump in with feedback to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Step 4: Feedback: Round-The-Room (10-20 mins)

After the presentation, everyone shares their notes one by one. Go one at a time around the room, and give everyone a chance to voice their feedback. Try to keep it to two minutes per person. No “interruptions” from others — if they have a pressing thought, encourage them to write it down for their turn. Allow people to “pass” if they have nothing to add, or if they’d like to think more and provide feedback later

Step 5: Thanks & follow ups (2-5 mins)
  • Host team asks their clarification questions or any specific questions at this point.
  • Set further pair design or feedback sessions with individuals if needed.

Are you hosting a critique session in your team? Here are some ground rules:

  • Set the context: Take a few minutes to speak about the journey you and your team have taken, cover crucial milestones, the motivation and the goal of the projects.
  • Share your goals for the session: Clarify what is open for feedback and what you want your colleagues to help you with. The more specific your are, the clearer feedback you’ll get. Decide if you want people to interrupt with questions, or wait until you’re done sharing, and let them know which you prefer. Include a slide dedicated to “Here’s the feedback I am looking for,” and conversely, “Here’s what I’m NOT looking for” to keep the discussion focused. Remind them to write down their thoughts as you’re going through the content.
  • Create a safe and trustworthy environment: Be accepting of any and every idea that comes up, create an environment where people feel open to share their thoughts without the fear of judgement.
  • Facilitate:
    • Move non-relevant discussions to parking lot
    • Focus people on the goals for the session
    • Keep time
    • Promote equal participation
  • Document the feedback: the team can ask the critics to share their notes for future reference.

Are you joining a team as a critic? Here are some ground rules:

  • Practice empathy: Easier said than done! But try to remember that we are all on this together working towards a common goal.
  • Ask clarifying questions: It is encouraged to ask many questions, don’t hold back.
  • Advocate for the user while keeping the project’s goals in mind.
  • Be specific: What’s working and what’s not working.
  • Provide directional suggestions: Diagnose the problems and suggest possible solutions that the team could explore.
  • If something does not fall into the scope of the session set by the team, note it and share it later.