The W.H.Y. Method for Better Design Critiques
A framework for critiques that unifies the team and serves the ultimate goal: stronger design
I’m a naturally quiet person. This is neither a good nor a bad thing. My teammates have described me as a calm and concise communicator, an open and empathetic listener, and strategic in my approach to design. I attribute these valuable characteristics in large part to the fact that I often process information internally before verbalizing it. I’m thoughtful and consider alternative perspectives during critiques before defending my decisions.
On the other side, I’ve been in meetings where I may still be considering an earlier comment while more vocal team members have moved on to another point. In an effort to mitigate this kind of disconnect, I’m always thinking of ways to strengthen team communication in order to accommodate a variety of personality types. Design critique is primarily about how we assess and talk about design, so ensuring that stakeholders learn this skill is vital to our success as a team and a company. In order for any designer to be effective at their job, they must build a shared framework with stakeholders to evaluate their work.
What makes a critique effective?
In searching for the answer to this question, I stumbled upon research that Google had done around “What makes a team effective?” Google researchers found that it doesn’t really matter who is on the team, but how the team works together. With this in mind, they cited psychological safety as the number one attribute for team effectiveness.
Google defines psychological safety as a state in which “team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.” Team members should feel confident that no one on their team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea. Psychological safety goes both ways in the critique process. Designers should feel safe presenting their work, and stakeholders should feel safe providing feedback.
In Gerren Lamson’s post “Design Critiques Part I: A Culture of Effective Feedback,” he outlined nine effective critique principles, but we’ll focus on the five that…