Group Crits: A Primer, Part IV: Great Expectations
Specifically, tying my expectations of you back to *your* goals.
Hello, students of UXA! New and old! Students in general! Or to anyone who happens to be reading this for some reason! I’m Robbin and I run design critiques for Designlab’s UX Academy program on the weekends, and I love this gig. It is my hope that you’ll find the hour we have together useful.
This series of articles will tell you the goals of the group crit, what you can expect from me, a handy list of questions to ask in crits, what I expect from you, and why I do certain things in my crits.
What I Expect from You
- Come prepared. If you don’t know what to talk about, check this list from Designlab. Seriously. Look at this list. These are questions that you should be noodling. You’re going to be talking anyway, so take 10 minutes before the crit to think about something you can potentially share or what questions you can ask presenters. I know y’all are waiting for that link and feel mild anxiety if it isn’t there right away…but what’s driving that anxiety? If it’s because you just want attendance credit, you are coming to the crit for the wrong reasons. I will say it a million times over: group crits are one of the most valuable tools ever, because it pulls you out of your personal bubble where you’ve been designing on your own for the past week.
- Remember that you will always either present or give feedback. You are not off the hook if you’re in the research phase and you feel like you have nothing to show. Sure, it may not be visual, but you can most certainly talk about your findings and tell us what you hope to do next. Half of the battle is vocalizing your plans, because some folks may actually have suggestions for you before you continue. You may end up surprising yourself. And if you’re giving actionable feedback, that is the greatest gift you can give, because you are now helping someone improve their design. Remember…I model these after design reviews from work. A quiet design review is a fruitless design review.
- Reflect on your own project and what you’re hoping to accomplish. This is actually from that list, but it bears repeating:
• This is what I thought (about my project) coming into the critique
• This is what I learned from the questions and feedback I received
• This is where I’m heading next
- Separate the real world from class world. I see this happen a lot in Phase I crits, especially — people freak out about how they’re doing the work rather than why they’re doing the work. Try to compartmentalize. Suss out time constraints that come from Designlab and ask how this is different from the real world. Figure out what processes got you the most interesting, actionable data from your coursework, understand why it helped the most, and then consider how you will approach further projects. Designlab provides you with the tools to be a UX designer. You must provide the reasoning of why you chose to use each tool.
- Ask for specific feedback. I know it can be a source of anxiety when I say, “K, sounds good, you have a prototype. You’ll go next.” If you have something that could benefit from feedback, my hope is that you have thought about what that feedback is. If you don’t know it yet, that’s fine. Let me know. We’ll figure it out and that will guide the conversation. Without knowing what you want — or having too many questions — you will end up with feedback that is all over the place. I’m not expecting you to take us through the whole user flow. Ten minutes is not enough time for that, especially when you’re still learning the ropes. Take a few specific screens. Hell, take ONE specific screen, especially if it was giving you trouble. If you have no idea why you put a slider here and a search bar there and thought, “Eh, it looks right there” or didn’t even think of why it belonged there first, talk about that.
- Take notes not just on your own projects, but on the projects of others as well. What are the questions that were asked? Why were they important? Were they questions you hope to get when you present your own work? I can tell who has been in my crit many times, because they will start asking questions that they hadn’t asked before, but were asked in a previous session. The discussion becomes much more fruitful.
- After you ask the presenter a question, reflect on its value. Did they find your feedback useful? Were your questions solely about the visual assets of the project? (Side note: That happens way too much, y’all.) Do you find that you’re not sure what to ask when it comes to research? Speak up and say so. Seriously. “I don’t know what to ask since it’s just research.” That’s very clear to me. I will always offer 10 seconds of awkward silence before I pose a question to an individual or to the group.
- Attend with the intention of fulfilling one of the goals from this first post. Are your questions, focuses in your process, and presentations in line with the career path you want to pursue? If you’re more interested in UX research and it’s a skill you want to develop, are you spending too much time creating icons and feeling bad for not having the prettiest design? If you’re great at graphic design but want to speak to your process, are you pulling your audience back when they only talk about the visual assets?
- Try not to sweat the small stuff and simplify the problems as much as you can. This is a tough ask, because this directly relates to what happens when you are outside of the group crit and you’re back in your bubble. Do not overcomplicate everything because you think you need to do everything!11!11!! in terms of the product. You don’t.* If you’re working on what button x will do, but you’re thinking BUT WHAT IF THE USER ALSO WANTS TO DO THIS AND THAT...well, you can play with the Marvel prototype, scroll to the bottom for the enormous version, or click here if I’ve reached my bandwidth. Simplifying problem statements and being able to logically realize when you’re talking about something that isn’t really essential to completing the first iteration is a huge step in the right direction.
- Take a deep breath and be real with yourself. Ask yourself why you are taking the course in the first place, and how much you are willing to do in order to get there, because there are a hell of a lot of steps. If it’s to get a job with little experience in the field or even in design, then you need to remember that you are in a pool with thousands of others who also know how to wireframe and prototype, etc. You need to think about how your own process stands out. Push yourself to ask questions in the group crit, even if you feel like they don’t make sense, even if you feel like it doesn’t contribute. (I promise you, it’s pretty similar to design reviews I’ve attended. We’ve gone off topic a couple of times and I just took notes on it trying to understand what happened.) If you read my article on what you can expect from me, then you will know that I will do my best to facilitate the conversation so that we don’t go off topic and we can focus on questions that will help you grow as a critical thinker.
*Note: Unless you’re planning on starting your own company, working in a 2–5 person start-up, etc. situations where there wouldn’t be a team of PMs and devs to support you.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next one…and yes…seriously, read through the texts. (Also, what do you mean your inner dialog doesn’t sound like this…)
I’m Robbin, and I was on the full-time track in the Ive cohort of UX Academy. I work at Udemy, an online education marketplace. I’ve been here for four years, starting in support, and I worked on several projects utilizing design techniques to improve everything from support process flows to understanding and improving work flows between remote and home teams. The work I do focuses on how information is shared and developing efficiency. I’m also doing part-time work with the product design team, where I do pretty much everything I’ve learned in Designlab and support (plus a little more) to get user-facing and internal projects to a point where they can be tested live.
On weekends I run design crits with Designlab, and I am also about to start an internship with UXBeginner as a content strategist and UX writer. I know a lot of designers, and I have plans to start a podcast aimed specifically at students in the UX field who don’t know how to navigate the waters, as well as people who are considering a UX career but don’t know much about it.