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March 08, 2014

You Don’t Have To Speak To Critique

This UX and design critique technique uses silence and post-its to make traditional design reviews more efficient and honest. By not speaking at all, everyone gets heard. So it’s basically like magic.

The inspiration for this critique method came from Leah Buley’s book The User Experience Team of One. She describes a “Black Hat Session” when a designer gets a bunch of stakeholders together, sets aside niceties for a moment and has them write down everything they feel is wrong with a set of designs or flows. Since everything they do is pretty much pure gold, Google Ventures also uses a version of this technique in their design sprints.

Our product design team at Fullscreen has a variant of these exercises that adds a little bit of positivity to the “Black Hat” approach, timeboxes everything and leaves us with a visual record of what’s working and what isn’t with a set of designs. It’s a super-efficient way to distill feedback from a range of different voices into simple, actionable next steps.

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Such silent. Much contemplative. So honesty.

What

  1. Round up your team: designers and product folks, engineers, any other interested parties. And start by hanging work up on a wall. Sketches, printed mockups, whatever you’ve got. The more the better, especially if you’re working on distilling a bunch of concepts into one or two directions.

  2. The first ten minutes is a silent critique, so no one should be asking questions and designers shouldn’t be trying to explain their work (yet). Give everyone some post-its or colored stickers. One color for positive feedback, and another for critical feedback.

  3. Take five minutes for everyone to mark elements of the designs that they think work well. You might ask participants to write a little note about what they like on a post-it, or you might just have participants stick the positive color to elements without a note. (Just using stickers is quicker and gets more feedback, but writing a quick note gets a little more depth and also ensures that everyone’s thoughts get brought up.)

  4. Then take the next five minutes and have the participants mark up everything they don’t like about the designs.

  5. Now that you’ve got a visual record of what resonates and what doesn’t, it’s time to get the team talking. Start with each designer giving a quick overview and some context for each sketch or comp, and then go through the feedback. Every participant should have a chance to speak about what they marked up, both positive and critical.

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The session’s done, but you can still see what worked and what didn’t.

Why?

  1. Starting out with a silent critique evens out the levels. Not having participants speak at all until the final step normalizes the differences between loud and quiet voices so everyone gets heard.

  2. Giving participants a non-verbal means of identifying weak spots helps overcome tendencies to just be too damn nice in critiques. It’s just easier to be honest when you’re writing a critical thought down or just using a sticker to represent that critical thought.

  3. It’s a very economical way to get feedback from a group. Timeboxing the negative and positive feedback rounds keeps things efficient and you end up with a punch list of points to review in the final step which keeps everyone on track.

  4. The final outcome visually surfaces the things that work and the things that don’t. Once everyone’s marked up the work with stickers and post-its, you’ve got a heat map of the aspects of each design that resonated with the group.