design without critique is like a flower without water (webexpo 2013 version)

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The talk I gave at WebExpo in Prague.

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  • Design without critique is like a ower without water Petr Stedry, UX Designer My name is Petr Stedry, I work as a UX Designer for GoodData a Business Intelligence cloud platform. Today I would like to help you improve your designs through critique.
  • Imagine your child is 5 years old and learning to write on his own.
  • Says DRINKING REGIME And one day he shows you this. What will be your reaction? What kind of feedback will you give him?
  • A) Wow! That's fantastic. Will you praise him for his good skills? Saying something like ... Wow! Thats fantastic! You are really good at writing.
  • A) Wow! That's fantastic. B) Good job! Or will your feedback be more specic like this? Good Job! The letters are well spaced and straight. But look, the N and Z are ipped. And you are missing a space between the words.
  • A) Wow! That's fantastic. B) Good job! Who thinks A is a better response? Who thinks B is better?
  • Who thought A was better? Actually A is what most people do to their kids. They want them to feel good. Offering only praise. Glancing over the errors without mention.
  • Who thought B is better? But B is a much better feedback for the child as it can use it to improve his skills. Lets talk about ways to use the same approach for your designs. And not only designs. If you want to improve, critique will help you in many situations.
  • And not only with your design. Critique is a life skill.
  • Critique What is it? Why should I care? So what is critique? And why does it matter?
  • No, I dont want you to read a wikipedia page. That wouldn't help you understand. Let's look at an example. Or rather a counter example.
  • You are probably familiar with one setting, where critique usually does not occur. Design review meetings. You know them, right?
  • You would want them to be more like supermarket. You get in with a design and get out with a list of things to be improved. And everyone one is happy! No?
  • Usually the design review meetings are more like a gallery. You bring the art and the stakeholders either like it or dont. Or worse. They are trying to offer improvement suggestions.
  • To get to the list of things that work and those that dont you need to perform systematic and detailed analysis of the design. And thats critique. It is about critical thinking. Challenging the status quo and not blindly accepting the world as it is. Thinking like Sherlock Holmes.
  • Argument Argument Argument Argument Argument Argument At the heart of critique is an argument. But not all arguments are equally powerful.
  • Personal opinions the likes and dislikes are the weakest arguments as they are based only on emotions. You can agree or disagree with them depending on how much they match your opinion. But that will not make them useful beyond expressing your feelings.
  • < Opinion Strong Argument > You can imagine the strength of arguments on a scale like this. With opinions being off the scale on the left and strong arguments no one argues about on the right. A little bit stronger than opinions are arguments based on inductive reasoning, consensus or analogies. That horizontal menu worked well on that site, so it will work on our too. Arguments like this are pretty common and quite weak.
  • < Opinion Strong Argument > A strong argument in design is based on direct observation, results of usability testing or other forms of research. You can read research papers online for free! And its a great idea to spend as much time in usability tests as possible. It doesnt need to be your site or app thats tested. The observations youll make will be worth it.
  • Preparing for critique To get most of the critique session, you should prepare yourself in advance. There are a few things you can do.
  • Accept that your design is not perfect Start with accepting that your design is not perfect. I have a story to tell you ... A long time ago, I was a JAVA programmer. My job was to design and implement an optimal technical solution to a problem.
  • O (n) In programing it is quite easy to measure what approach is best. I got taught at school how to compute the asymptotic time complexity of an algorithm. Those were times. Everything seemed so simple.
  • I began to move from programming to design in 2004 when I was working as a contractor for Skoda Auto, the car manufacturer. I carried on the skills I had learned. When the requirements arrived, I tried really hard to produce the optimal user interface. When the negative comments came, I was mostly defending my "optimal" solution, looking for arguments to support it.
  • Accepting critique seemed like admitting failure. Failure to design the optimal solution on my own.
  • Wrong 50% Right 50% Don't be like that past me. Don't blindly defend your solution.
  • Wrong 50% Right 50% Accept, that you might be right just 50% of the time. Use critique to uncover what is good and what it wrong in your design.
  • Set your expectations In order to be able to accept the critique, you also need to set your expectations.
  • Do you need a hug? If the answer is Yes then go to your or mother. She loves you and will hug you if you ask for it.
  • Or post your work on Behanc. This screenshot shows the typical type of feedback you will receive. Isnt that the digital equivalent of a hug?
  • Or did you just want to show off your supreme design skillz? Why not. Nothing wrong with that. But it wont work as a critique session.
  • It's not about your ego. It's about improving the design, remember? Only call for critique if you want your design improved. This has to be your main motivation.
  • Prepare the design For you the design is probably "your child". You nurtured it for several days, weeks or maybe even months. It IS hard to accept critique. The design needs to be prepared.
  • The bond between you and your design is strong. An theres something called the IKEA effect. It says the strength of the relationship between you and the design depends on the amount of labor you put in.
  • You can also observe this phenomenon when you have kids. Your feelings for them are so strong because of the extraordinary amount of work you put into raising them. In design though, there is one easy way to minimize its effect. Start with critique as soon as possible.
  • Forget long hours in Photoshop or Axure to polish a design. Whenever you can, critique pencil sketches created in a few minutes. You will be much less attached to them.
  • Share the context For other people to be able to critique your design effectively, they need to know what you know
  • Without this information, they cannot objectively evaluate the quality of the design. It would be the same as if you were wandering around city on a foggy day, unable to see most of its beauty and aws. And someone would ask you: How do you nd this city?. You would be unable to answer.
  • So share Personas, Scenarios and any other user research youve based your work on. It is important, that this information is not only presented, but also well understood by all participants of the session.
  • But you do not want the critics to follow you in your footsteps. Just show them where you intended to go - what were your design goals and constraints.
  • A-ha! You need them to form their own opinion! They need to experience that aha moment.
  • Its hard not to explain your