Michael Verdi

Critiquing Design

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. This left us frustrated with scattershot results. Sometimes sessions were productive, sometimes we got way off track, and sometimes people left discouraged or upset. So I wondered if we might be able to use a process that I’d used quite successfully in my dance and theater days.

A dancer in mid-air holds a large ball.

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.

The Challenge

Create an effective critique process that makes us better designers by adapting Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Format. Bonus points for an asynchronous version that can be used between people on opposite sides of the globe.

My Roll

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 where the context is contained in the work.

For my adaptation, I made two main changes:

Critiquing Design - The Process

The critiquing.design website is shown in a browser window. It features a group of people talking. There are a bunch of post-it notes on the wall behind them.


You can read more at critiquing.design but the basic process works as follows:

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 you’re done, you may be surprised to find your team is smarter and more inspiring than you knew.

Bonus Points

We’ve discovered that many of these techniques can be used ad-hock in all kinds of situations. Clarifying and neutral questions get asked in brainstorming sessions, Slack conversations, and team meetings. It makes our communication more respectful and inclusive.

Last year I found myself regularly collaborating with a colleagues in Germany and New Zealand. We found that turning the design presentation into a video and then using a Google form to collect answers worked great as an asynchronous critique session.

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