The Firefox UX team didn’t have a process for critiquing work. We’d occasionally experiment with things that we’d read about but nothing really stuck. Mostly it all lived as good ideas that were easy to forget in the middle of a critique. So I wondered if we might be able to use a process that I’d used quite successfully in my dance and theater days.
This is me about 25 years ago. I was part of a theater company where I first learned Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. We used this extensively—it was an integral part of our company dynamic. We used it to develop company work, we used it in our education programs and we even used it to redesign our company structure. It was a formative part of my development as an artist, a teacher, and later, as a user-centered designer.
Creating an Adaptation
Liz Lerman’s process is geared around putting the artist in control of their feedback and creating an atmosphere where the audience is trying to assist them in creating their best work. It’s designed to happen in response to an artistic experience like a dance or theater performance.
For my adaptation, I made two main changes:
- Presenting the work: I added guidance around setting the stage for your colleagues—how to actually show or demonstrate your ideas and what type of context you should provide.
- Optional opinions: Normally, with a trusted team, the designer is able to decline to hear an opinion for any reason (maybe it’s about something no longer relevant, for example). But workplace power dynamics can be challenging and this might not be possible. So I allow for the designer and facilitator to agree to remove this step for particular audiences.
Better Designers and Better Teams
Designers wield more responsibility than ever for products and services that increasingly face tough ethical questions. The giving and receiving of design feedback is often the nexus of negative, biased, and even harmful thinking and communication. This deliberate, rigorous approach is an effective tool to ensure that design teams are positioned to create more good than harm.
What I love about this is that it works by embedding all the things we strive for in a critique into a deceptively simple, step-by-step process. You don’t have to try to remember everything—just follow the steps. And when your done, you may be surprised to find your team is smarter and more inspiring than you knew.
As our team has been using this process over the last year, we’ve discovered that many of the techniques can be used ad-hock in all kinds of situations from brainstorming sessions, to Slack conversations, to team meetings. It’s begun to make all of our communication more respectful and inclusive.
Outside of the Firefox UX team, I’ve done a few workshops and presentations about Critiquing Design.
- Workshop for the design team at integrate.ai.
- Workshop for NGEN 2020 students in Whangārei, New Zealand.
- Presentation for the Chicago UX Book Club.