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.
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.
- I workshopped the adaption with the team.
- I trained facilitators.
- I advocated for dedicated critique time and encouraged people to participate.
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:
- 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.
Critiquing Design - The Process
You can read more at critiquing.design but the basic process works as follows:
- The presenter then sets the stage—providing the relevant context that the audience needs to appreciate the work before presenting it.
- After the presentation the audience spends a few minutes on their own with the design or idea.
- Then the facilitator guides the audience and presenter through the five step critique process:
- Step 1 Clarifying questions: Audience members can ask the presenter for more context or for more details about how something works.
- Step 2 What's working: Audience members talk about the parts of the design or solution that work well.
- Step 3 Presenter asks questions: The presenter asks the questions they came to critique to get answered.
- Step 4 Audience can ask neutral questions: The audience now gets to ask neutral questions, i.e., questions that don't have opinions couched in them.
- Step 5 Opinions: With the presenter's permission, audience members can express opinions about the design.
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.
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.View the template