IA Summit 11: The Art of Critique

For my first session on the second day of the summit I attended a great presentation by Adam Connor, Aaron Irizarry on The Art of Critique. They had a lot of great information that is important to keep in mind, not only when giving a critique, but when receiving a critique, and how to setup them up to be most effective.

My Notes

  • Where & how a design does, or doesn’t meet it’s goals
  • Provided in a way that the receiver can not only understand, but also act on the information
  • Critical thinking, asking and understanding why
  • Critiquing Benefits
    • Provides common ground
    • Fosters discussion
    • Team work and collaboration
    • Common language
    • Makes us better communicators
  • Critiquing is a life skill, not a design skill
    • Self evaluation
    • Accepting input
    • Communicating ideas
    • Common understanding
    • Using what you learn to improve
  • Start young, and isn’t always taught well in our school systems.
  • Two sides to critiquing, giving and receiving – both are critiquing


  • The wrong intent is selfish
    • Saying something to put the focus on yourself
    • Saying something to prove your knowledge
    • Unwelcome, or untimely opinions
  • The right side of intent is selfless
    • Facilitating conversation
    • Removing yourself, and focusing on the product
    • Filtering feedback and applying in the right context
    • Aim to understand designers context and what they are trying to achieve.

Tips for giving a critique:

  • Don’t assume things – ask about reasons and constraints
  • Don’t invite yourself – ask if they want to talk about the design
  • Lead with questions – show interest in their process
  • Dialog – it shouldn’t be one sided comments

Receiving with the wrong intent is self focused. The right intent takes humility and meekness. Be willing to listen and change, don’t take it personal.

Tips for receiving:

  • It’s all about the product, not you
  • LISTEN to the full thought
  • Think and consider before responding
  • Refer to goals, and clarify what your trying to achieve
  • Participate, look analytically at the design too.

Formal Critique

  • Introduction to critiquing for new participants. Chance to practice the critiquing skill. Choose members carefully based on position and personality.
  • Cross-functional critiquing can be very useful

Think before you speak:

  • Slow down
  • Analyze your response
  • Choose words wisely
  • Focus on the product

Rules of Critiquing:

  • Everyone is critic including the designer, everyone participates.
  • Everyone is equal regardless of job title or status
  • Up to design to decide what feedback to act on, just because it’s talked about doesn’t mean it’s going to be backed  into the design.
  • Avoid trying to problem solve, and instead propose solutions

It’s up to the designer to filter feedback based on going back to the goals of the project and deciding on a design solution

Critiquing Session

  • People with goals around a product
  • Consider personality
  • Consider roles
  • Not the same people each time, couple different tasks
  • 3-6 people
  • Critique all the time – at different stages of the project. Critiquing should be a common productive think.
    • Critiquing throughout the full process eliminate surprises and ensures transparent collaboration
    • Clearly describe the goals for the product, but no how the system is intended to achieve them
    • Be careful when talking about constraints
      • Don’t use them as an excuse
      • No one wants to constantly hear the sky is falling
      • Can be perceived as defensive


  • Don’t explain every decision you make
    • Let those critiquing see if they perceive it in the same way.
  • Send out designs in advance so that participants have time to formulate their thoughts, and you can put in rules and structure for the meeting.
  • Give quotas – everyone must list at least two things in a round robin fashion
  • Direct inquiry to ensure that everyone participates
  • “Six Thinking Modes”
    • give each person an assigned emotion to focus on during the critique.
  • Avoid moderators, and simply provide formatted rules and structure

Dealing with Difficult People

  • Set expectations
  • Clarifying rules
  • Use documented goals, personas, research etc.
  • Ask how the comment affects the goals.
  • Ask for clarification on “techie” terms


  • Document observations and questions then post and share responses afterwards.
  • Get more feedback where necessary on points.
  • Communicate next steps for the design
  • Thank participants for their help.

Remember Intent

Communicate Goals

Focus on the Why