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Critique Culture and Where I Failed

So, I’ve been thinking a lot of process, especially about how critique fits into process both in academia and in the workplace. In academia we are constantly pushed to have our work critiqued, which is absolutely fantastic. However, what I failed to realized, despite all my preaching about getting feedback and critique as often as possible, is that in academia critique comes to you. Often times it simply wasn’t necessary to go out and explicitly ask for critique for someone. Someone was constantly around, and usually looking over your shoulder. They would just walk up and say what they thought. This is absolutely fantastic, but it’s unlike the real world which I’ve experience here at Mozilla. While we work strongly in teams, we often perform a lot of work on our own. This work happens at our own desk on our own computers. While working at our desk, everyone at the same time, it’s very unlikely that someone is just going to come up and start talking about what you are working on at that very moment. Sure people come by your desk and talk, and once in a while it’s relevant to the stuff you were working on that particular moment. But often, it’s not. This means that the work you are performing right now is being looked at by you, and likely only you. Despite our somewhat deepest fears, our colleagues are not looking over our shoulders. No one is peeping at our computers secretly judging us and see how many times we log into twitter and facebook. It’s just not happening for the majority of us, especially in our field.

But maybe this is a bad thing. Maybe we should be seeking out our colleagues and talking about our work more. It struck me as very odd that during a small post mortum my mentor told me that he would like to see my work more. That I wasn’t sharing enough. The preacher of sharing and getting critique and feedback and failed at his own message. For some reason, I just wasn’t reaching out for critique. I’m not sure if it was because of this new culture, if I felt I wasn’t doing good work, or if I just didn’t notice. But one this is for sure, I didn’t ask for critique when I should have. Critique early on would have saved me time for doing work that others had already done or thought about. It would have saved the company time and it would have saved me some brain power.

students critiquing work
Photo by: Anthony Nguyen

Sure this is all stuff we preach in graduate school, particularly in my program. But, I don’t think it’s real world enough. Because of the class sizes, the immense and wonderful team work, the studio atmosphere, the professors always being around, and the amazing relationships we form with each we often don’t need to reach out for critique. I think this could be improved. In particular for our HCI/d program at IU we should continue preaching for students to seek critique. However, I think it might be hugely beneficial for the second year students to push this further with the first year students. While we should give as much critique as possible while the new class is just getting started, towards the end of the first semester we might start backing off. We might let them know that they need to reach out to us more, and push them to do this when they are not. This could help students to seek critique more often, from more people, and in many new ways. By somewhat forcing students to ask for critique (and pushing them to do it more when they are not) students might better transition this skill into the workforce.

In the end, we need critique. It keeps us on our feet. It keeps us from wasting time and money. Critique helps to keep our ideas and energy focused and fresh. It helps in spreading ideas and generally creates a better design culture. So, let’s get out there and ask for critique. Do it in any form. Post a photo on flickr or picassa, blog about your ideas, draw them up and put them on a whiteboard, wad it up and throw it at your colleagues for inter-office fun, attach it to a nerf dart and send it flying, or kindly ask a stranger for feedback. Do it, just ask. People always want to share their opinions and thoughts. Let us critique more and more and more. Our designs will improve. We will improve as designers.

And yes, I’m eating my own dogfood. Check out my Firefox Home Tab Concepts, as well as some sketches I’ve put up: sketch one, sketch two.

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on the subject. Comment below and make me happy!

Jeff Badzell’s Interaction Criticism: How to Do It
Read more about critiques and how to give them:
How to give and take critiques:

Leave a comment

  1. Hey John,

    I totally agree with everything you are saying. I teach and am finishing my MA in Creative Writing, and I also feel that most grad school don’t teach enough real-world advice to the students. It’s 100% craft and not enough, “how to”. Great article and cool blog! I’m glad to discover it thanks to facebook!