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How to Speak Intelligently About Design

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Guiding Principles

  • Only offer criticism in the context of the project's intent. Do not give critique without first asking questions about the goal of the piece.
  • If you don't know the project's intent, state your criticism within the context of an assumed intent. For example, when discussing a newspaper, it's safe to assume that the content of the articles is intended to be readable, but state that assumption anyway. You can also use if statements such as "If this logo is meant to engender trust, the use of devil horns seems counterproductive" when intent is not known.
  • Objective observations, like how the work looks, makes you feel, or differs from the other work on the wall, etc. are just as valuable as critique and are valid with or without context.
  • Talk about the work as it is, not the person who made it or the circumstances surrounding the piece's creation.
  • Good criticism comes from a place of love and a mutual desire to improve ourselves and our work. Try your very best not to take it personally or get defensive about your work for the wrong reasons.
  • Talk about whether or not specific decisions are successful or unsuccessful in achieving the desired outcome. Try to avoid personal taste ('I like' or 'I don't like') and value judgements ('This is good' or 'This is bad') whenever possible.
  • Saying 'I would have done...' or 'I would try...' is not appropriate criticism. Recognize that what you would do given the same problem is not relevant or helpful feedback.
  • Cite precedence and similar work often. This should not be given or perceived as an accusation of plagiarism, but rather an attempt to learn from the successes and failures of the past.
  • Always ask questions, but be aware that the work must ultimately stand on its own. Questions should be used to gain insight into the piece's intent to offer better feedback, not as a crutch to explain work that cannot communicate effectively on its own.
  • When in doubt, simply 'state the obvious' by describing the piece aloud. Though this may sound silly at first, it can actually be quite enlightening.
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