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Designing for Quality Critical Discourse

Yesterday I submitted my final paper for my Interaction Culture class. About five minutes later I came up with a better title, but oh well. I thought it would be great to share and get some feedback from people outside of the class.

Title: Designing for Quality Critical Discourse

Abstract: Critique is important in many fields, including art and interaction design. In this paper I will look at two sources that allow for photography critique; Deviant Art and Flickr. I argue that specifics of Deviant Art allow for and foster quality critical discourse. I argue that certain formal characteristics along with use qualities create a particular style. This style is then affected and made sense of through social structures such as photography culture. This style fosters better quality critiques, even though it has weaknesses. I end by presenting six principles for designing for quality critique.

Full Paper: Hill, John Wayne. 2010. Designing for Quality Critical Discourse.

Overall, I’m very happy with my paper. While I don’t generally enjoy writing, I did enjoy the emergent thought and sheer usefulness of the pre-writing activities that Jeff Bardzell taught us. I think I most enjoyed laying out an argument and using theories that I had never before touched. This allowed me to be confident in what I was thinking and arguing. What scared me the most was the while writing I ended up defining Interaction Style, and was not confident at all in doing so. In an upcoming post, I will devote some time to this definition. Overall, this paper has greatly affected how I view critique interfaces, and has had a huge impact on my capstone. I hope others will share their papers as well!

An Analysis of Critique Content

In an upcoming paper, I will argue that Deviant Art provides for a better quality critical discourse. I argue that certain formal characteristics along with use qualities create a particular style. This style is then affected and made sense of through social structures such as photography culture. This style leads to better quality critiques, even though it has weaknesses.

What makes for a quality critical discourse?

According to Carey [1] a quality photography critique talks about both objective elements, such as exposure and composition, as well as subjective elements such as artist intention and expression. Whittington [2] says that effective critiques talk about some formal elements of the photograph, unity, rhythm, balance, and communication. Abrahmov [3] talks about common criteria for a quality critique saying that quality critiques should talk about the focal points, the quality and direction of light, composition, depth of field, as well as the relationship between the foreground and background. So, according to these authors a good photography critique should talk about both formal elements of a photograph (those intrinsic to the photograph itself), as well as subject elements of a photograph. By providing both objective and subject elements in a critique, a criticizer can talk about the technical elements of a good photograph while still discussing the viewers aesthetic and emotional response to particular elements within the photograph.

What makes for a weak critical discourse?

When quality critiques talk about formal and subjective elements of a photograph, they quite usually discuss elements in a fashion of good elements, elements that need improvement, and usually conclude in talking about the overall affect of the photograph. So then, weak critiques would talk about either just formal elements, just subjective elements, or neither. I’m leaving out ‘critiques’ that simply demean or put down a photograph without talking about good elements within that photograph or with mean spirited comments about what needs improvement within that photograph. In fact, I’m not counting this type of commentary as a critique at all, as they provide no real discourse to the subject.

When a critique focuses on only formal elements within the photography, they fail to address the interpretation and intentions of that photograph and photographer. As photography is used for many different purposes, it’s important to speak to the artist’s intention to understand how a particular photograph will be used. Similarly, focusing only on subjective elements leaves no real basis for objective comparison between photographs. This style of critique tends to be an “anything goes” critique and normally fails to add to the discourse of photography. Furthermore, this style of critique normally fails to provide elements of improvement for the photographer. In simply saying “This photograph is beautiful” or “This stinks”, a criticizer isn’t saying much about the photograph at all, but rather speaking of their own personal opinions. When adding discussion about particular elements, such as “the exposure, light, and shadow of this photograph work well to create a beautiful composition” a criticizer is speaking to what creates, helps, or hinders their aesthetic experience.

Content Analysis

In determining what makes a quality critique, I looked at two large photography websites that allow for some sort of critique; Deviant Art and Flickr. I conducted a content analysis of both sites using 70 photographs from each respective website. Each photograph was picked at random. Comments and critiques were read and then coded. These coded results were then grouped according to the type of element being discussed or the type of discussion happening. For each site I grouped my analysis according to artist expression, color, composition, detail, emotion, exposure and lighting, and focus. While Deviant Art allows for 4 ratings to be given to a photograph, I also looked at how criticizers referred to or used those given terms within their textual critique. Within Flickr, comments are used for critique but also for leaving praise and awards to artists from the community (which is a form of critique itself).

What kind of critique is given on Deviant Art?

In looking at Deviant Art, I found that over half of all critiques talked about compositional elements (perspective, background, foreground, framing, etc) as well as exposure elements (lighting, contrast, tones, shadows, highlights, etc). Furthermore about half of these critiques also referred to the artists intention and the emotional affect of the photograph. About twenty-one percent of critiques also talked about Deviant Art specific keywords (Vision, Originality, Technique, and Impact) giving meaning and discussing how they interpreted these keywords within the photograph and critique.

What kind of critique is given on Flickr?

In looking at Flickr, I found some very interesting results. Overall, ninety-seven percent of photographs I studied contained comments simply offering praise or praise in the form of ‘awards’ (graphic icons stating greatness). Within these Flickr comments as critiques, only 30 references to formal elements were made, compared to 145 references on Deviant Art. Furthermore, only 4 references to subjective elements such as artist intention or emotional affect were made, while 32 such references were made on Deviant Art. It’s clear then that most of these comments were praise only not talking about any formal or subjective elements of the photograph. So, what did these praise only comments talk contain if not talking about formal or subject elements of the photograph? Most of these were contained of small three to five word phrases like “I love it”, “gorgeous”, or “this is the best!!!”. Exalting comments like may help the photographer feel better, but they do not provide a quality critique.

Why does this matter?

In all arts, critique is important in that it provides discourse and learning opportunities. Photography critique brings forth a discussion of what makes for quality photography in a non-arbitrary fashion. This provides knowledge and learning opportunities for other photographers.

Above I have discussed what makes for a quality critique, and what makes for a weak critique. I have shown how that Deviant Art has quality critical discourse, while Flickr offers a mostly praise only environment. In coming posts (and in my paper), I will show that the interaction style of Deviant Art is what allows for these quality critiques. By teasing out the details of the interaction style of Deviant Art, I will bring forth principles for designing for critique.

  • 1. Cary, Rick. 1985. A Structure for the Critique of Student Photographs. In Annual Meeting of the National Art Education Association.
  • 2. Whittington, J. 2004. The process of effective critiques. Computers & Graphics 28, no. 3 (June): 401-407. doi:10.1016/j.cag.2004.03.007.
  • 3. Abrahmov, Shlomo Lee, and Miky Ronen. 2008. Double blending: online theory with on-campus practice in photography instruction. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 45, no. 1 (February): 3-14. doi:10.1080/14703290701757385.||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3.

Life on Mars

For the final project in my Experience Design class, my team created a museum experience of what life might be like on Mars. My team started this project out by visiting the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. We read multiple papers, and looked at research that had been done about Mars and what life might be like on Mars. From there we created a prototype experience and ran some user testing. We iterated and tested our design several times until we came to this final design. Although our design targeted families with children, we had a design constraint to be universally accessible. In order to better understand accessibility issues, each member in my team prototyped a handicap of some kind. The video also shows these disability prototypes, the insights we gained, our prototyping experience, and our user testing. In this video we attempt to show what the experience of our exhibit might be like for visitors.

I’ll be posting this design, along with more detail about our process on my site soon. For now, I hope you enjoy our final video of Life on Mars.

Life on Mars from John Wayne Hill on Vimeo.

Group View

For my Computer Supported Collaborative Work class, I’ve been studying photography groups and how they work together. I studied a local photography group, PhoSo, in order to better understand what problems photography groups might have. For this project I was able to study PhoSo on two separate occasions. During the first occasion, the group meet outside to learn about and teach some light painting and night photography skills. In total 11 people attended this session and the session lasted approximately 2 hours. During the second session, the group meet inside in a classroom on the IU campus. In total 9 people attended this session and it lasted approximately 1.5 hours. During these studies I observed people’s behavior, group interaction, collaboration, teaching, and learning from each other. For both studies I actively participated in the groups sessions. As being a photographer myself, I was able to both teach other members, learn from other members, and share my photographs and knowledge.
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What is Enough Diversity?

A class assignment for Digital Imagery asked us to look at digital imagery as documentary about diversity. I completed this assignment looking to my masters program in HCID as an exemplar. In studying the composition of students in the program, I noticed that we are actually very diverse. This lead me to the question: What is Enough Diversity? Through my assignment I post a list of “Golden Questions” with which to think about diversity.

What is meant by diversity? Racial diversity? Gender diversity? Socio-economic diversity? Cultural diversity? Personality diversity? Grade diversity? Expertise diversity? Political diversity? How do you measure diversity? Quantitative? Qualitative? Can diversity be measured objectively? From who’s perspective is diversity concerned? The President of IU? Dean of Informatics? Director of HCID? Professors? Students? When do we stop concerning ourselves with diversity? Does worrying about diversity make it matter more? What happens when we stop worrying about diversity?

Download a PDF of this assignment: (includes an alternate final version and attributions)