The critique cross

At the UX Cambridge conference in 2014, my friend Alisan Atvur talked about techniques for managing designers and managing managers, which I enjoyed very much.

EDIT: October 2015 –

Alisan now has a short video that explains this concept.

One of the tricks he told us about is what he calls “the critique cross” – a very simple tool for inviting and managing design critique in a structured way. Since he hasn’t written about it yet (as far as I know!), and since I frequently refer to it and tell colleagues about it, I thought I’d take it upon myself to share the detail.

Four aspects of critique, split into four quadrants around a cross (after Alisan Atvur)

Alisan Atvur suggests four simple aspects of critique, to keep it focused and manageable

If you need to provide or receive useful critique on something – sketches, a prototype, an interface, physical or digital – it is useful to do that in a structured way.

What Alisan suggests is that we consider four main aspects for the critique. These four aspects are associated with each quadrant around the cross you see in the image above, read clockwise from the top-left.

  1. Dwell time” – how much time do we have to talk about this (5 minutes or an hour… it makes a difference)
  2. User context, goals, needs” – what problem are we trying to solve here? what are the user needs?
  3. Logic” – what design decisions have been made, and why? What are the suggested solutions?
  4. Design principles” or “Business goals” – what else has guided our decision-making, in terms of what we’re trying to achieve.

In his original talk, I think Alisan actually suggested “Emotion” as the fourth quadrant. What emotion are we trying to produce in the user; what experience are we aiming for? I think this is a fine option but in practice, I’ve found it equally useful to reiterate any design principles that we have generated from research within a project.

So there you have it, a straightforward way to manage design critique.

3 thoughts on “The critique cross

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing the ‘critique cross.’ I didn’t encounter design critiques until I took an information design course at Central Saint Martins. Although initially nervous about them, I fell in love with the process: we had to work quickly, share our ideas and refine our designs. It’s a skill to be developed, and it doesn’t come naturally in all work places. The GV Guide to Design Critiques also has some sage advice about managing design critiques:

    • Hi Rachel. Thank you for your comment (it’s nice to know someone actually reads this stuff!), and thank you to the link to the GV Guide.
      I have a bunch of resources and places I’ve taken inspiration from when I think about critique, but somehow I hadn’t seen that before.

      I don’t think we’ve actually met before, have we?
      If you’re over in Hinxton / Cambridge again sometime, though, I’d love to hear more about your design critique experiences.

      • Hi Francis. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one reading your blog — it’s great; keep the posts coming!

        We haven’t actually met, but you might recognize me from the nursery runs. My kid’s in Christopher Robin room; I do research comms with the one of the malaria teams at Sanger. So, I’m around campus most days.

        We’re having our annual meeting next week, but once that’s done, I’d be up for coffee and trading critique stories. We’re in the middle of a website redesign, which has me thinking a lot about ways to keep people involved and gather feedback — generally, trying to avoid blinkers! I’d be really curious to hear more about your experience with EBI. What’s the best way to arrange a meet-up?

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