Making Critiques Valuable Part 2: The Critic

Welcome to the second part of a two-part mini-series about critiques. If you haven’t yet read Making Critiques Valuable Part 1, I hope that you’ll find it helpful as well.

Presenting your work for review or critique can be difficult, but critiquing can be too! In this post, we’re going to talk about a few things that will make your job as an observer or critic of someone’s work easier and more efficient.

Presence is KEY

First off, be present. Presenters have taken time to show their work to you; respect that. Put away your phone, stop chatting, and clear away distractions. Focus on the presenter and their work. After all, that’s why you’re there. If you have questions, write them down and wait until the end to ask them. Chances are, they’ll be addressed later on in the presentation. But you won’t know that unless you’re present and paying attention.

Be Truthful, but Kind

Critiquing is not an excuse to be mean. It is extremely imperative that you remember that you are critiquing the presenter’s work, not the presenter. Keep all comments professional and uplifting. But in that, don’t be afraid to address a problem. For example, if you don’t like the placement of certain buttons, it would be appropriate to say something like, “I like the button design, but I’m unsure of the placement. Have you tried placing them ______?” This question would elicit a response from the presenter that allows them to explain their process and give you a reason (or lack thereof) for the button placement. If you were to say something like, “I really hate where the buttons are and I think the client will too”, you’re going to make the presenter defensive, which makes for a really bad vibe during a critique.

Speak Specifically

One thing that I’ve learned from my time as a graphic designer is that critiques aren’t helpful unless they’re specific. Responses like “I like it” or “I don’t like it” don’t give the presenter much to go off of. So when you’re speaking and offering critique to the presenter, be sure to answer it in two parts: what and why. Tell the presenter what you like or dislike, and why you like or dislike it.

Acknowledge Expertise

During the presentation, keep in mind that the presenter is the expert. Let’s say that your company’s User Experience Expert is giving a presentation on an app that their team has been developing. That person has years of training and experience that makes them qualified to create an app, which makes them the resident expert. The purpose of a critique is to better someone’s work, so never feel like you shouldn’t offer your opinion. Give your opinion, and the presenter will take it and do what they like with it. Just remember that there may be reasons that they change or don’t change things based on their expertise. But don’t let that stop you from offering your opinion! That’s what critiques are all about.  

Recognize the Good

You know what it’s like to spend countless hours on a project, and so does the presenter. So if you see something you like, tell them. Praise them for all of their hard work, and tell them what you really like about it. Everyone loves being recognized for their work.
I hope that these tips will help your organization conduct more efficient and successful critiques. What are your tried and true techniques? Share your thoughts below.

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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