Making Critiques Valuable Part 1: The Presenter

We’ve all been there… Standing in front of everyone, the final moment you’ve been waiting for. You’re finally showing your client or team the thing that you’ve been slaving over, and it’s awesome! Or is it terrible? Does Sheri hate it? Oh no… your supervisor just checked his watch. But he smiled first. What does it all mean?!


There’s a reason that group critiques have a bad rep. Having a design degree, I’ve participated in my fair share of critiques- both as the critic and the critiqued- and I can tell you that they don’t have to be miserable! I’ve gathered a few tips from my years of critiques that will hopefully help you as you present your work for feedback. Here in part 1 you’ll find pointers for presenting your work and receiving feedback. In my next post, part 2, you’ll see tips that will help you when giving feedback. I hope that they will help make your experience more beneficial and less stressful.


Explain Thoroughly

It’s important for your audience to know about and understand your project. So before you begin, explain everything thoroughly. Tell them why you made a button green, or added an image that wasn’t in the original proposal. Your audience is going to wonder these things, and often times they’ll ask. So instead of wasting valuable question time, beat them to the punch. Also be sure to fully express your thoughts. You can’t assume that they know why you made the choices that you did, so be sure to tell them why! And speak those reasons with confidence! You’re the expert here, and you should be able to confidently stand behind your researched decisions.


Ask for Advice

This one took me a long time to learn. But here’s what I realized- if you think you already know everything, you don’t leave yourself any room to learn or grow! Keep in mind that closing yourself off to learning and growing is fatal. So to avoid this, don’t be afraid to ask for advice! Your colleagues may have a different area of expertise than you, and that works in your favor. Critiques on the Learning and Professional Development team often turn into brainstorming sessions, and it’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing and solve problems.


Be Specific

Some of the best advice I ever received on the subject of critiques is to never ask “What do you think?”. This asks too general of a question and often received an equally general answer. Things like “I like it” or “it’s nice” sound fine, but they don’t give you any true feedback. Instead, ask specific questions. Things like, “I couldn’t decide between green and blue for the text box. Green seems to have better contrast, but blue matches the scheme. What is your opinion?” will get you thorough, quality feedback. That feedback, in turn, helps your work improve in major ways. So even when you feel put on the spot, don’t be afraid to be specific!


Know Your Stuff

This point pairs well with what I said when asking for advice. Just keep in mind that you’re the expert. People may ask questions that seem SO silly to you, but they don’t know that they’re silly. And it’s your job to use clear, researched methods and to back up your decisions. For example, if a client asks why you didn’t make the “stop” button green, explain to them that green usually represents “go”, so to color the “stop” button green when it has the opposite connotation would just confuse the user. That client or colleague may have never thought of that, which is why you better know your stuff and be able to stand behind your methods.


I hope that these simple steps will help lead you and your colleagues to smoother, more valuable critiques. Do you have any tried and true methods that you use? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to check back next month for part 2: Making Group Critiques Valuable – The Critics.

Savannah is a Graphic Design Professor at Gila Community College, and is passionate about using design to better the world around her. She believes in researched design, and is a major proponent of paper before pixel. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, designing for small businesses and non-profits, and attempting any DIY she finds on Pinterest.

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