Critique is one of the most crucial conversations there is. How to ask for and get feedback when you need it is a core life skill. Without it, we’re in the dark. Setting up a special time and place with clear rules and goals to get the crucial feedback you need to move forward...that’s designing the conversation, and I can’t think of a conversation that’s more critical. Pun Intended!
My guests today are the authors of the wonderful (and quick reading!) book Discussing Design: Improving Communication and Collaboration through Critique Adam Connor, VP Organizational Design & Training at the strategic design consultancy Mad Pow and Aaron Irizarry, Head of Experience Infrastructure at Capital One.
Critique isn’t just fancy feedback...Critique is about asking for and the designing the conversation you need to have, with the people you need to engage. Do you want: a Reaction, a clear Direction or deep analysis? That’s Critique: it has rules and boundaries, and if you don’t ask for critique, you can’t get it.
We dig into the 3 myths of Critique, how critique isn’t really a designers skill, it’s a life skill for anyone trying to bust out of the status quo.
I want to highlight a few things you’ll hear towards the end. I asked Adam and Aaron to discuss how they handle a few key aspects of the Conversation OS Canvas in their critiques, like power dynamics, turn-taking, and interfaces and spaces for the conversation.
Invitation: The core point (and what the opening quote is all about) is that you get the critique you ask for. And that if someone *isn’t* asking for critique it’s pretty tricky to offer it to them successfully. In those cases, getting permission to give feedback is essential.
Power: Adam sets the ground rules that if you’re invited to the critique session, your voice should be heard, and that in this session we’re all equal. The facilitator is there to balance voices, to call out people who are to dominating or hiding in the conversation.
Interface: I always say that when you change the interface you change the conversation. Adam and Aaron both prefer in-person critique conversations – email isn’t designed to support the depth of communication real critique requires and as they say Asynchronous feedback will never be the same as a live conversation. But as teams become more distributed and digital, they’ve found some benefit in doing a pre-read and a notation round in a tool like InVision or Mural, and then moving to a video call.
Turn-Taking: While I am pretty obsessive about turn-taking, Adam says that he’s sensitive to it, but doesn’t want to over-control it, preferring an organic flow. He’ll sometimes use a round-robin to make sure everyone speaks in turn and at least once. Finding a way to balance voices within an organic structure requires a skillful facilitator.
Also: There's a video, if you prefer watching over listening!