INFO 3300 - Project 1 Critique Activity
When designing, it's almost inevitable that at some point you will end up in a creative "rut" where you start to repeat the same design patterns and begin to lose track of the potential downsides of choices you make. Much like you should always have someone else proofread an essay because you tend to overlook your own typoes, in design you should engage in critique in order to understand your own design blindspots and overcome them. Critique is not "criticism" per se, in the sense that it is intended purely to criticize something. I like to think of critique as "criticism + action". When you engage in design critique you do identify successes and flaws in a designs, but you also need to offer productive ideas or suggestions in light of the things you find. Critique should be productive. When done right, it should give the person who was critiqued some ready ideas to apply in this design or in future ones.
As you critique, please follow these ground rules:
- Remain productive. If you identify a success or flaw in a design, make sure that you have something to say about an alternative direction or how you might use a successful component in the future.
- Consider the entire example holistically. Think not only about the specific visualization, but about the design as a whole. Don't be afraid to comment on typography, spatial organization, etc.
- Show humility. Everyone designs from a different background. In a class like INFO3300, everyone also has a different skill set. Be humane in your critique, and don't bash something just because it's an easy flaw to spot. Call out others if they engage in this.
- Make compliment sandwiches. If you have a strong criticism of a design, start and end with something positive. No matter how flawed, a visualization always has positive aspects.
- Take notes. Critique is a great way to get ideas and suggestions to integrate in your future work. You'll forget them afterwards, so take notes now.
Please follow this procedure:
- There are about 95 different project groups in the class. We'll break out into groups of 6-8 students so that discussion is more manageable.
- Each member in a breakout room will introduce their projects and then receive group critique.
- First, allow the designer to introduce their design for 2 minutes. Share your screen and show what your group made. Talk about your design concept and identify a few decisions you made when making it.
- Then, as a group, critique the visualization for 3-5 minutes.
- For the next 40 or so minutes, rotate between groupmembers. If you end up with extra time, discuss any memorable projects you've already critiqued or any questions you have about your write-up prior to the extended deadline on Tuesday.
Design critique can take any number of forms. Some outline pros and cons, or identify particular visual elements and break them down. Others start with the data and discuss the construction of the visualization from the ground up. In your group, feel free to set up whatever norms you prefer for design criticism.
Here are some questions to help guide your critique:
- What kind of data is the visualization presenting?
- What is the purpose of this visualization?
How has the designer tailored this visualization to meet particular user information needs or goals?
- Does this visualization require training/study to work, or is it immediately effective?
- How are the data encoded into visual form? Does the author use specific visual channels (in)effectively to represent certain dimensions?
- What design trade-offs are present in the visualization? Are they emphasizing some part of the data at the expense of something else?
- Do you feel that this visualization is successful? What elements help make it effective, and what hurt its effectiveness?
- What’s missing from the visualization that would improve it? Is any element of the visualization misleading or at risk of misinterpretation?
- How would you do things differently if you were to re-design it?
Instructions for TAs and Mentors
Please rotate between your assigned breakout rooms, prompting discussion and providing critique to groups.
Here are some ideas to help prompt additional discussion:
- Listen and watch a demo, then provide a critique a specific part of what you saw.
- Inquire about how they found their dataset and decided the topic of their project.
- Ask why the designer made a specific choice you observe, and whether they considered any alternative options.
- Offer an alternative option to a group, and have them discuss the trade-offs between their existing approach and this new one.
- Prompt the group to discuss their favorite aspect of the visualization being demo-ed.
- Ask each breakout room member to identify one thing that they would adjust in the project to improve it.
- Have the group state one thing they learned while doing the project that made them a better designer.
- Ask the group what they would do differently if they had to start the project over again.