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, interaction signalling, etc.
- Show humility. Everyone designs from a different background. In a class like 4310, 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:
- Visit the critique list for your group.
- Each group member will have 4-5 minutes of critique.
- First, allow the designer to introduce their design for about 1 minute. Talk about your design concept and identify a few decisions you made when making it.
- As a group, critique the visualization. As this is an interactive exploratory visualization, think about how the design of the tool helps you to flexibly explore data through visual and interactive elements.
- For the next 40 or so minutes, work together to critique. Before concluding the activity, pick out one of the projects you critiqued to highlight to the class as a whole. When we all reconvene, we'll look at the projects each group has picked. If you end up with extra time, check out some other projects.
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?
- How is interaction employed in this visualization? Are there any trade-offs that come from introducing interactions? Are the interactions helpful?
- 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?