Tips for critiquing works of design

Graphic designers communicate a specific body of information to a specific group of people to achieve a specific result. The purpose of a design piece is to change an attitude in order to change the behavior of the target audience.

Assessing and critiquing any work of design should be made through the eyes, mind, and perceptions of the target audience. No one else really matters.

A critique is an analytical process of evaluating and understanding a solution to a graphic design problem. Designers hone their conceptual, communication, and execution skills by constantly analyzing their own work and the works of others. It is a valuable skill to be able to objectively analyze your own work to spot its strong and weak points. This evaluation helps you refine the areas that may need attention and reinforce those that are strong. It will help you grow as a creative problem solving designer.

The shredding process
By Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Imagine.
One of the best things about a moment of insight is that no one needs to tell you you're having one. A decision just feels right. Sometimes these moments hit during a relaxing shower after a long period of agonizing, though, more often, insight takes hard work, collaboration, and lots of triple espresso shots.

Brainstorming, a nice idea that doesn't actually work, has become the most widely implemented creativity technique of all time. The first rule of brainstorming is 'Thou shall not criticize.' It feels good - we can all come into a room together and free-associate, fill up the white board. But people are much more productive when they work in groups following a very different set of instructions.
Research has shown that only truly constructive criticism of ideas and a culture that encourages dissent will result in great ideas that move a company forward. Companies that exemplified this culture of encouraged dissent: some Pixar, Toyota, and Apple practices are good models, but it's best to look to art schools, since disciplines like art, music, and dance are techniques that are honed through constant critique and refinement: a process that leads to greater 'creativity.'

Steve Jobs, head of Pixar during their formative years, advocated the practice of brutal honesty. At Pixar the engineers and animators begin every day by watching the most recent footage of the previous day's animation. Then they engage in what they call the 'shredding process.' People rip apart the work to find the flaws - whether or not they had been involved in the creation. Feelings get hurt. It's harsh. And it is incredibly useful. Over the course of years of shredding, you end up with a really good animated movie. Criticism is built into their process at every step. You don't advance by avoiding failure and blindsiding yourself to your sore spots. There is something about criticism that makes us rise to the occasion. You suddenly feel something bigger is at stake, and you rebuild relative to that. Fail fast, then fix.

Improving your critiquing skills and practicing to objectively analyze your work and that of others will help you to:
• Enhance your growth and progress as a creative problem solver.
• See your own work objectively.
• Isolate your ego from your work.
• Not take criticism personally.
• Improve observation skills.
• Enhance your skills of communicating a concept.
• See the benefits of keeping an objective open mind.
• Be more willing to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in your work.

Critique criteria
The basic criteria for evaluation of a piece is:
• Does it work?
• Does it solve the problem.
• Does it meet the objectives.
• Will it achieve the proper result.
• Will the viewer understand what the client and designer intended.
• Will it effectively change the attitude of the target market.

Areas to consider
The 'big idea', theme, copy line, and creative strategy.
• Creative: clever, fresh, original, novel/useful and original/practical.
• Thorough exploration of ideas and thorough attention to detail.
• Primary dominant idea that 'drives' the entire piece.
• Appropriate balance between innovative and familiar.
• Solution valid and appropriate to the problem.
How well the idea concept is conveyed.
• Strong visual impact: grab the viewer's attention. Is it inviting, stimulating, and compelling?
• Composition and format of the page layout: balance: equal, heavy, lopsided, comfortable; shape: delicate, heavy, clumsy; movement: static, dynamic, directional, flowing, erratic.
• Appropriate style of design and technique of illustration.
• Easy to understand meaning of the message content.
• Effective readability and legibility.
• Viewer response appropriate to content or desired result.
• Content and message conveyed efficiently and quickly.
• Does it incite the appropriate action and response.
Execution or Craftsmanship
The quality of the final solution.
• Clean: free of dirt, smudges, tears, and bends.
• Proper materials used.
• Accurate alignment of elements.
• Solid neat inking.
• Straight lines, smooth curves, and sharp corners.
Efficient model, dummy, comp.
• Composition format of the page layout.
• Dress appropriate to the content.
• Rehearsed, thorough, brief.
• Anticipate questions.

Bottom line
Figure out what's working in the piece; exploit that and minimize the rest.
1. Analyze the piece.
2. Determine its main conceptual strength.
3. Exploit that and minimize the rest.