Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

Critique: Reflections on Taking Design Criticism Well

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I could draw of course, but I knew I wasn’t skilled enough to really go for it. After I got my first computer with an internet connection, I started thinking about web and graphic design as I was fulfilling these roles for my band. I ultimately didn’t pursue that path for a number of reasons. Namely, I couldn’t take criticism well. In fact, it wasn’t until the last few years when I began learning about UX and the user-centered design process that I ultimately learned to appreciate criticism. In high school, when I envisioned a life as a graphic artist, I imagined spending all this time to come up with a finished work just to have the client demand a slight change to the work that meant having to start over to create a new work that incorporated that slight change. At that, I lost interest.

Once I understood that things like brainstorming, sketching, parallel prototyping, and getting feedback early and often as a matter of course correction before any significant time and energy is spent on the finished product, it gave me the confidence to finally commit to this discipline and career path. I am probably best at being the brainstormer that comes up with all the worst ideas first, but I take solace in the understanding that this is helpful to the group. With all of this in mind, I started drafting up some quick “sketches” of animated notes on Adobe XD, because a lot of the elements that we might use as designers are already assembled through various UI kits that you can download for free on Behance (Links to an external site.). What I quickly found was that I wanted to go back and run a different design, so I actually created a parallel prototype and was essentially able to run my own a/b test to see which design I liked better. Parallel prototyping allows for more divergent ideation (there’s that model of divergent/convergent thinking as presented in the design funnel again), and an increase in self-efficacy, or the feeling of confidence in abilities regarding the task at hand.

While a lot of us will probably stick to using some form of software for our sketching needs, I think it’s important for us to practice and develop our drawing skills. In a similar manner to how typing notes into a Google Doc is more convenient for reference material, writing notes on paper has been shown to commit the information to memory better. (More info) (Links to an external site.)

Similar to the discussion on need-finding as an approach to qualitative design studies, there are also best practices in regard to giving criticism. Remember, that feedback is important information that the designer uses to course correct, so when you offer criticism, you really want to justify that criticism in a way that’s helpful to the designer and the work you are criticizing. If not, you might as well be naval-gazing.

Featured Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


“Chapter 4: The perfect brainstorm” in Kelley, Tom, & Littman, Jonathan (2001). The art of innovation: Lessons in creativity from IDEO, america’s leading design firm. New York: Currency/Doubleday.

Buxton, Bill. (2007) “The anatomy of sketching” in Sketching user experiences. New York: Morgan Kaufmann.

“Sections 3.2 – 3.4” in Greenberg et al. (2012). Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook.  Waltham, MA: Morgan-Kaufman.

Dow, S.P., Glassco, A., Kass, J., Schwarz, M., Schwartz, D.L., Klemmer, S.R. (2010). Parallel Prototyping Leads to Better Design Results, More Divergence, and Increased Self-Efficacy. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 11(4).

Design Critiques (Choose 1 out of the 2 to read deeply and quickly skim the second):

Design Critique and the Creative Process, Cassie McDaniel (Links to an external site.)

Spool, Jared (2012) Goods, Bads, and Dailies: Lessons for Conducting Great Critiques

“Sections 4.4” in Greenberg et al. (2012). Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook. Waltham, MA: Morgan-Kaufman.

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