A Better Critique Method for Web Stuffs
For Designers, critique is the most potent catalyst for better solutions and overall growth. As a young design student, my love for what I created and subsequent love for myself would swirl each around the other in a towering frozen sundae of selfish-esteem that could only be melted by other people’s searing grasp of reality. It hurt to have my sundae toppled, but I knew it made me stronger. Eventually, I gave up on sundaes altogether (as I should do with this metaphor) and learned to hunger only for the critique.
Every student would tack their sketches to the wall, gather around, and await the brutality; blood-red pens in hand. There would be targeted jabs from the professor, and wild swings from overeager peers. Sometimes, everyone just stood around your work and violently kicked at it (and sometimes, people abused metaphors). When the dust settled, though, ideas were thoroughly vetted and the work improved with each iteration.
As a professional web designer, I have found this particular style of critique missing. I could just chalk it up to the fact that I am getting better – but no; that’s probably not it. Given the nature of what we do, web designers are just at a disadvantage: a lot of our work exists on screens, and our processes are becoming increasingly digital as well. Most critiques I have had in my career have been conducted with 2–3 people trying to get a good angle around a desktop. Or (shudder) print-outs of sites. What we need are paper-thin screens we can tack to walls and write all over, but until then perhaps there’s another way (and yet another metaphor):
Our Experimental Critique Method
- 1 Large Flat Screen TV (HD preferably, to best represent an onscreen environment)
- 1 Mac Mini (or any media server with a modern browser)
- 1 Bluetooth Mouse
- 1 HDMI Cable
- 1 Bookmark from Markup.io
- 1+ Designers (other than yourself)
Connect the Mac Mini via HDMI to the large HD flat screen. Take control of the Mini’s screen via the “Share Screen” button when connecting to the Mini (in Mac OSX’s finder). This way, you can open up your browser, navigate to the comps and prepare everything from your desk before inviting people to gather around the TV.
If your TV is within your computer’s Bluetooth range, you can bring your mouse along to scroll and navigate, or just set up the Mini with it’s own mouse. Next fire up the Markup bookmarklet to use your mouse to easily sketch quick notes on top of your comps. Now you’re ready for hardcore, design critique action.
Further Critique Tips
- Schedule the time in advance, in writing. People are more likely to treat the process with respect when it is officially scheduled. Also, everyone likes to know there is a planned end-time.
- Outlaw the word “like”. …or any Make people describe why an element is successful or not. Set preferences aside.
- Arrive with a plan. Know which aspects of the design you wish to explore, and talk everyone through them. Get general impressions as well, but don’t just ask “What d’ya think?”.
- Give roses along with thorns. I have found critique is always better received when paired with positivity. This helps you to be constructive, and forces you to really look for those positives and negative.
With this method, you can scroll, hover, and see real pixels on a real screen; you can scribble all over it and then shoot it off in an email; but, best of all: you can gang up with your fellow critics and be utterly ruthless. The dynamic changes as people get up out of their seats and can easily move in to see finer details. The blood – and thereby, ideas – starts flowing. So far, this method has grown organically and worked quite well here at MBD, but we’d love to see other solutions. How do you run your critiques?