DIWO - Do It With Others
Design is a team sport and critique is no different. Critique is an opportunity to open ourselves to multiple perspectives and ideas. The team is collectively shepherding the design closer to the objectives. With good ground rules and a culture of critique, there is room to bring diverse perspectives to the table for a critique session; for example, this could include the project manager, developer, visual designer and a marketing expert. Smaller sessions often work better for teams getting used to delivering critique that is focused on design objectives. A good rule of thumb for the maximum session size is the ‘two-pizza’ rule (credited to Jeff Bezos). You should be able to feed your critique session team with two pizzas, so between five to eight people.
Regardless of the size of the critique session, make sure that you designate a facilitator whose job is it to run the meeting - keeping people focused on critique rather than reactions or directive problem solving. The facilitator can also play a note taking role in order to capture the critique for the design owner who is receiving critique of the work.
Interestingly, people who are very adept at critique can switch ‘modes’ and step back to critique their own work. This takes a lot of maturity, critical thinking and analysis skills, but it can be done! For our purposes as designers, DIWO is still a great principle to bear in mind - you build buy-in, team trust and gain access to new modes of thinking that you cannot replicate solo!
HiPPO - Highest Paid Person’s Opinion
In a design critique session, it is crucial that all perspectives are equal and that all participants come from a place of thinking critically while exploring the design and its objective. Hopefully, the culture in your organisation is already conducive to this, regardless of title, role or pay gradient. However, this is not always the case and it is important to bear in mind the potential effect of HiPPOs - the highest paid person’s opinions.
Depending on organisational culture and individual relationships, sometimes even just the presence of very senior stakeholders in a room changes the dynamic and can cause others to stay quiet. One potential risk is that people wait for the senior person to speak first and simply affirm or follow suit, rather than bringing a diversity of exploration.
One approach is to host separate sessions for very senior stakeholders if needed. Another is to be very clear on the difference between a design review (a checkpoint for approval or sign off) and a design critique (a session to help further the design objective through critical thinking and questions.) Including senior people in critique sessions can be a great way to build buy in, but be thoughtful about who you invite and the potential dynamics. Make sure that the rules of engagement are clear, even with senior people in the room.
Critique is a Gift
Consider author Ken Follet’s words on critique, “One of the hardest things for me, now that I’m famous, is finding people who can read my stuff and give me an honest critique.” Though it may not always feel like it, design critique is a gift that can move you and your team to new heights. Through some good ground rules, practice and embracing the process, critique can become a central and much loved part of the design process. Just remember, hip hippos do it with others!