Intro to Critiques

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Whether you’re new to critiques, or if you want to strengthen this skill, the method I introduce here will help you give or receive better critiques in any creative endeavor.

In any design field, one of the most important skills you can pick up is how to give and receive constructive criticism. This is a skill that can take a long time to master. The biggest mistake I see when introducing the concept of critiques to my class is that most students think a critique is simply a time to tear down another person’s work. While pointing out flaws is a part of the critique process, it’s not the only thing it’s used for. So let’s start with the purpose of a critique.

A critique is a detailed analysis and assessment of something. Feedback from a critique should be used to make that something better.

Tips for giving a critique

When teaching my students how to give a critique, I like to use the “I like, I wish, What if?” format. The “I wish, I like, What if?” method was developed at the Stanford (design school) in an attempt to make the critique process more productive. I’ve found this format to be very helpful because it frames the critique as a conversation. The format is as follows:

  1. I like... Start the critique with something you genuinely like about the project you're critiquing. Don't be snarky. We often forget to tell people what we like about their projects, which might give the impression that we hate everything about it. There is always something you can appreciate about the project you're critiquing, so make sure you talk about it.
  2. I wish...This is the meat of the critique. This is where you express what you feel can be changed or improved about the project. Make sure to keep the "I wish" part of the statement in tact because it keeps a conversational tone and reenforces the fact that this is a suggestion to make the project better, not an ultimatum. By beginning the statement with "I wish" you also increase the chances that someone who doesn't do well with critiques will hear out your suggestion.
  3. What if? I believe that the key to a good critique is not just pointing out flaws, but offering suggestions about how to make it better. A critique is ment to improve a project, it isn't a free pass for criticism.

Practice using this technique when giving feedback. I guarantee your critique sessions will be more productive if you use this technique.

Tips for receiving a critique

Critiques can be hard. Not everyone in industry uses the technique mentioned above, and sometimes it’s hard to hear blunt negative feedback about something you’ve worked really hard on. At these times it’s important to remember that the goal of a critique is to make your project better. With that in mind, here are some tips for receiving a critique.

  • Try to separate yourself from the item being critiqued. Remember that you created the piece, and you can make it better.
  • Try not to interrupt. Instead focus on what the person giving the critique is trying to tell you.
  • Take notes. You might be receiving a lot of feedback, and there's a good chance you'll forget some of the points raised. Notes will be helpful to review at a later time.
  • Focus on the positives. If someone mentions something positive about your work make a note of it. It's easy to get caught up in the negative.

With these tips I hope that we will have better more productive critiques.

You can download the Stanford handout about the “I like, I wish, What if?” method here for free!

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Till next time, game on!