The Value of Design Critiques

Critique. 

It’s a necessary thing in design. However, the word ‘critique’ is typically tied to negativity for many reasons, and that’s unfortunate because there are great things that can come from effective critique.

Now, before we start - the way we see it, there is a difference between feedback and critique. Feedback is what we ask of our clients, critique is what we do internally as designers and with other trusted designers. In other words, ’feedback’ is the general review and information about a reaction from our clients in relation to their preferences while ‘critique’ is the detailed assessment of the design (both positive and negative) in order to critically move and push a design forward.

The biggest thing we hear is that critiques are purely subjective, and in some ways yes, however, good critiques do have objectivity in them because they are rooted in design fundamentals and not just likes and dislikes. True design critique requires a deep knowledge of design fundamentals. 

What makes critique hard initially is that there is emotion tied to the work created. We’re not saying that it will ever get easier, but as you grow in design, hopefully there is a realization of the value and opportunity in critiques.

Back when I was in design school, I remember the first few critiques were SO NERVE WREAKING. It was this unknown territory, yet every single project we created always had a critique at the end of it (so it was something I had to get used to very quickly). 

I will always remember this one specific critique. It was very early on in my design schooling, and it was some sort of project involving using only letters in a way to create a visual poster. I remember thinking that I wanted to really ‘push’ the way I was using the letters and do something unique. Well, I pushed it a little too far. I had turned an “E” at an angle - and during the critique it was brought to my attention that the angled “E” read like an “M” which made the entire primary focus of the poster completely illegible. It was a HARD critique. I was so annoyed with myself that I didn’t catch that earlier. BUT, isn’t that the point of critique? We can get so ‘into’ a project that we need outside design perspective to critically and effectively move a design forward. 

After that specific critique early on in design school, I remember taking all that was said during the critiques and actually learning from it to adjust and move forward as a stronger designer. I learned the design rules (from typography, to color, to layout) and learned when and how to appropriately break the rules.

Flash forward to the end of my design school and walking into my senior thesis critique. I had created these massive illustrated maps filled with ONLY typography. It was like one of those do or die situations. I had always loved type and throughout school had learned a ton both by studying it, and from critiques (like the one early on in school). However, this critique ended up being very different from the one I had experienced years prior. It was a critique in front of the entire design school staff, and they had nothing bad to say! It was a completely positive critique. Talk about a 180!

Now, with running our own business, we internally critique each other’s work, which has the potential to get tricky as a husband and wife team. As mentioned, it’s hard to not register critiques on an emotional level because we pour a ton of time and energy into our work. However, we know the value of examining each other’s work in order to critically look and analyze a piece of work to see what’s working, what’s not, and how to move forward.

 
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Practically, things we look at for every critique are typography, hierarchy, composition, colors, purpose of elements. We always ask: does it communicate what we want it to, and is it visually appealing to both the brand and its audience?

So, critique. It’s tough. However, it is so valuable, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Hot tip - Find designers who you trust to have your best interest in mind, and who’s work you like, to get critiqued by. You won’t regret it.