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Page history last edited by bernadette blair 14 years, 9 months ago

In response to my question of how to best teach methods of critiquing, I recieved the responses below.  The perspectives were varied, yet most contained the sentiment to have some framework for structure and static expectations for the students and to remain positive, yet frank.



Recommendations for critiquing



Many of you liked Rolf Faste’s structure of “I like…, I like…, I wish…”  Some of you indirectly improved it:



“I had a teacher once who forbade the use of evaluation statements without any specifics attached to it (It's cool / I like it / That sucks etc.) It's a rule for novices, of course, but it improved the quality of the critiques instantly.”



“I also liked the  notion that only those things that can still be changed should be the subject of suggestions to change things for the better.  If it can't be changed, look for the positive rather than trying to drill down to the negative.”





Many differing methods were suggested to help students extend their critiquing abilities.



1. Have each student pick a classmate to be their 'guest critic' with each critic the next one critiqued, a chain. The pair leads the discussion in front of the class, and everyone gets the experience of being on both sides of the equation. It also ensures equal participation, unlike in traditional crits where the extroverts tend to dominate the conversation.



2. During the crit, have students concentrate on developing their critical vocabularies. This helps them move beyond "I like it," "It's a good solution," "It's cool," "It needs work" to a more sophisticated assessment. Once a new vocabulary word is introduced we write it on the white board and it can't be used again! Soon the list is dozens of words long. It's amazing how descriptive the students can be once challenged.



3. Have the students write their criticisms, anonymously. This is a more reflective method, and takes a bit of time. The class typically sets out the work around the studio, allowing students time to circulate and then write. The results are then shared with each student about their work. The student assessed can read through the comments and look for overlapping areas of concerns, compliments, etc. A discussion should follow. (A simpler way is to prepare a template or check list, but because we're trying to elevate the quality of student writing, these devices can be a bit shallow.)



4. Ask a lot of 'why?' questions. 'How?' questions are okay too. Answer their answers with more 'why' questions. Be Socratic. Call on specific students, ask their opinions.



5. Bring in a guest critic. This is best done if there's opportunity for the guest to be familiar with the project. I prefer to have the guest come twice -- once for an in-progress feedback session, then for final review. When s/he can see changes that were implemented it's a much richer experience. (A guest unfamiliar with the project's context can have a negative impact -- their comments don't align with the assignment and the students may feel misunderstood or even wounded.) It's also good to introduce the guest with their experiences, accomplishments, education, etc. so credibility is established.



6. Bring in your own work and let the students critique it. And they will! One value to this exercise is the notion that the crit is about the work, not about the person.



7. I use a VERY simple approach for students to help them build real critique skills over the course of a semester (it takes time to learn this skill). My approach is to instruct students to critique in two steps: (1) Say something that is really working in the design. Then (2) state something that is not working or needs improvement. One of each thing--then STOP (another student can then reflect on something else regarding that project). Redundant comments across students are discouraged--I encourage them to come up with original critiques. I find keeping it simple helps a lot. Also, opening the critique with a positive opens the recipient of the comment and relaxes him/her. This leaves them more open to accepting the "negative" element of the crit. (what's not working), which is the toughest part for all students.



This technique is derived from the early days of the software industry in the Valley, wherein "super-flat" organizations with one manager for many engineers first emerged-there was a need to give meaningful individual feedback to a large group of "professional" class, well-educated employees. The approach was originally used to offer actionable, simple, feedback to employees receiving performance evaluations. For managers, it simplified their job (with 30-150 evaluations to do, sometimes twice a year, the task became tractable and did not dominate managerial time). This approach allowed a concrete "most critical" message to be delivered with impact.



8. I tried the following method with my art class a few times.  It's pretty harsh, but it does a good job of getting the designer to really think about what he/she's doing.



• Pick a very strong willed volunteer to show their work.  Tell them that they cannot say anything during the whole entire critique.  They will offer their comments after the whole critique is over.

• Instruct the class to spend 10 minutes saying facts about the work.  Every little detail can be pointed out.  (ie. it is round.  the color is blue.  it took me 38 seconds to read this part.  etc) This helps train people to really consider the little decisions that they make.  Make sure that nobody says an opinion or says something about themselves (ie. i don't like this because....) Be sure to spend the whole 10 minutes ... the class should  be saying facts that whole entire time (this forces people to really look)

• Instruct the class to spend 5 minutes asking questions about the work.  (ie, why is this round?  Why is it blue?  Why did you pick these words?)  Remember to tell your volunteer to not say anything.

• After you complete the first three bullets, ask the volunteer to talk about what they learned.  Usually they will be very riled up and want to defend their work.  (But that's the point .... to get students riled up and want to justify why they do things and make their work better)





General advice on what and how to critique:



“Critique the meaning as well as the form. Modernity is dead. Socio-political-economic-cultural considerations are valid to the dialog.”



“Keep it light, humorous, respectful, constructive, honest. Humiliating methods will only backfire. Because I also provide my students with a written assessment with their project grade, I often use that one-to-one communication to be blunter.”



“I also offer participation credit (grade credit) for volunteers that offer what I call "critical reflections." I have a concrete, fixed (everyone knows it is coming) "critique moment" after all presentations, and I always have the students exhaust their critical reflections before I offer my own. In the good classes students capture and express about 90% of relevant critique (by the end of the semester). I then fill in the gaps if any.”



“Another variation on Faste's technique (I like, I like, I wish...) is the "sandwich critique" (don't know who to cite for this): Compliment, Critique, Compliment.  It's not really a technique for giving appropriate criticism, but more so just how to deliver it in a way that someone won't react to defensively. It also forces the person critiquing to build on what's working, even if it's just a tiny nuance. I've found this to be really important, since focusing purely on what's wrong will inevitably steer the bulk of the critique away from refinement and idea capture and towards general theoretical blabber.”



This sentiment to be positive was often seconded:



“Find at least one positive thing to say about everyone's work. This doesn't mean to gloss over weak stuff, but to show the potential for improving and learning. Find at least one critical thing to say about everyone's work -- perfection is always just a little ways beyond.”



“My own thought is that you need to know the student/team you are addressing very well to make good decisions about how frank and forceful you will be (level on the Milroy picante scale).”





Several examples of fantastic critique-ers were given:

“Hands down, the three best crits I ever attended were for classes taught by Vince(nt) Foote at the School of Design at NCSU where he is now an active Emeritus Professor. http://ncsudesign.org/CONTENT/index.cfm/fuseaction/person/mode/1/departmentID/0/startRow/34

“Did you take improv at Stanford with Dan Klein? I thought he was a phenomenal critiquer/teacher. This is how it would usually go: I would notice a couple people, or myself, doing anti-improv behavior (blocking, making others feel uncomfortable, etc.) and feel like a scene was not going in a productive direction. Dan would then stop everything and bring up the issue as an area for improvement that was super useful to the entire class. Although I always had a hunch whom specifically in the class he was targeting, he did such an amazing job of making the critique relevant to everyone involved. You never felt like you were singled out, yet you found yourself constantly reflecting on your behavior and performance relative to others. It was such an open and free environment for being creative. By the end of the class, you could definitely see how each of us had learned from his "critiques".”



“Another amazing critiquer is Gail Wight. She is an Art professor at Stanford. I haven't put my finger yet on what makes her a great critiquer yet... except that she does a great job of showing she understands what you were trying to do or thinking of doing. And then she very neutrally talks about variations, the importance, and the impact of the piece. Because she does such a great job of focusing on the piece itself, you never get distracted by your ego or taking anything personally. (What's the point of an insightful critique if the receiver becomes defensive before really hearing the advice?)”





And the down sides of some critique methods:

While Matt Kahn is by far the most eloquent and insightful critiquer I know, I sometimes feel a bit distracted by the drama that comes with it. I often don't actually understand or process his advice until much later.


And, of course, further reading:



For ID/art style critiques:








Writing of  Michael Bierut from Pentagram (who is particularly critical of—and funny about—the drama of critique).



For the more academically minded, Donald Schön's "The Design Studio."



What NOT to do were given:






Lessons from other fields were also drawn:

Gavetti, G., and Rivkin, J. “How Strategists Really Think: Tapping the Power of Analogy,” Harvard Business Review, April 2005.



“Another analogous resource is sports, where feedback is crucial for development: individually and as a team.  John Wooden is someone who's approach to coaching is super interesting.  He has a few books out, but I would pick one and read through to understand his philosophy on making teams/individuals better.”

















Comments (1)

bernadette blair said

at 5:19 am on Sep 18, 2009

I am a designer and faculty academic working in the UK. I found your discussions very interesting. I have been working in the area of the studio critique and have completed projects and a PhD around this subject. You may be interested in looking at a project I carried out with colleagues for the art, design & media subject centre of the Higher Education Academy in UK. This is for both students and faculty to use.
I would be very interested in any feedback you have The link is

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