A process critique is a short meeting in which you present your work-in-progress with the goal of gathering feedback. It’s a tricky thing to navigate because many of us feel more comfortable presenting finished work where we sell every decision we’ve made with confidence. But a process crit requires us to be vulnerable. And that’s not comfortable.
I learn the most when I’m out of my comfort zone. That said, knowing how to navigate a process critique puts us in a better position for listening and thus getting the most out of the experience.
A process critique has three parts:
- Presenting the Work
- Soliciting Feedback
- Interpreting Feedback
PRESENTING THE WORK
- The Big Picture. Start off with “the big picture” but keep it short. A one page diagram accompanied by a one sentence description of what you are working on will do the trick. The big picture provides context and orients the listener.
- Tell Us Your Problems. Point out in the big picture diagram one to three problem areas that you’ll focus on for the crit. Focus on only one to three because if you call out too many problems, your listeners will lose you. If you don’t highlight problems, your listeners may not focus on the feedback you want.
- Share Your Process. Summarize how you’ve navigated, or engaged in, these problem areas. That is, once you articulate a problem, tell us about your attempts to solve it (and whether you succeeded or not). For example, “Customers weren’t finding this button so we tried making it red, we tried making it bigger…” and so on. This gives your listeners a glimpse into your problem solving process.
- Write Everything Down. Write it down. Write it down. Write it down.
- Ask for Specific Feedback. If you have a problem that you are stumped by, ask for suggestions on how to approach it. If you are unsure about how a part of your project is being perceived, ask for feedback on that part.
- “I like it” isn’t enough. Don’t ask the question, “Do you like it?” In the same vein, don’t be satisfied with the response “I like it.” If someones says they like it, ask them to tell you more.
- Don’t be Defensive. Resist the temptation to defend your work. A Process Critique is an opportunity for you to listen and learn. If someone says something that feels negative, rather than defend your work ask, “Can you say more about that?” Train your ear to find the underlying problem that the speaker is responding to.
- Perspective Matters. The critics are no longer in the room. Look at your notes and pay attention to who said what. If a piece of feedback came from an expert in a certain area, take note of that. If feedback came from someone who is a target customer or strategic partner, take note of that too.
- Distinguish Prescriptive from Descriptive. Some of your critics offered you solutions. That’s called prescriptive feedback. It sounded like, “You should do this.” Others offered you their responses to your work: “This piece over here feels unresolved.” That’s called descriptive feedback. They pointed out a problem but didn’t tell you how to solve it. The type of feedback you prefer is a personal choice. Just don’t confuse prescriptive feedback for an action item, because you may be led to consider changes prematurely.
- Back to Vision. Once you’ve mulled over the feedback, you can decide what to do with it. Now that you’ve received feedback, your job as the designer is to find the sweet spot between your vision and your user’s comfort zone. Too much “vision” and you risk losing your user. Too little vision and you haven’t achieved anything interesting.
It’s important to get feedback on your work while you’re creating it. But it’s also important to use that feedback wisely. I hope these guidelines help.