What is a Design Crit?

I clicked on a link on core77 called a Design Crit: A Few Thought on the Nissan Cube which was posted by a design student. The gist of the Design Crit was that the Nissan Cube was a ripoff of the Toyota Scion, which was based on mistaken facts.

I thought maybe since it is a design crit, maybe its okay to have your facts backwards since crits don’t necessarily have to be based on facts.

I also recalled my final crit as a student, and there were design professionals who started brainstorming up new ideas for the design. Was this also a crit?

What is a design crit? Are there different kinds of design crits?

“Crit” is an abbreviation of the word critique (kri-teek). By definition a critique is an expression of critical analysis.

The root of the word is; criticize v. 1 find fault with; censure 2 discuss critically

critical adj. 1a fault finding 1b expressing or involving criticism

Color, shade, tint, light, dark, weight, length girth, height, serif, sanserif, textured, smooth, bigger, smaller, rounder… . I’d say that the list is endless (well, almost endless).

What an odd way to put an interesting question.

Critiques are based on facts rolled up in opinions posed as a points of view. All of the feedback is loaded with a lot of personal bias, and that is OK as design is a very personal endeavor. Often, attempts to intellectualize are just that, attempts.

A critique is often not about any particular answer or individual piece of feedback, but more importantly about getting a project going in the right direction. Critiques at the end of a project are useless to the project itself, but important to students, to show them how to do better next time. Critiques during the process of a project are very important because they can help to steer the project in the right place.

Critiques are often misconstrued as an opportunity to pout off and pontificate, and they can attract a lot of people that talk, but have little content to offer. It takes a skilled listener to sort through it all and figure out what to listen to, what to think about, and what to leave behind… as you will have to do with this very post :wink:

“I like your design, it looks cool”

“your design sucks, I don’t know why really, it just does”

“it looks good”

“it is OK”

I think it is important to always follow up an opinion with an explanation. When someone just says a statement like the above I ask them to explain in detail why they have that opinion and why it should be considered. If they can’t, I ask them not to speak for the remainder.


the statements above were from some of the worst crits I’ve ever had the luxury of attending. the most generic blanket statements with no further explanation that do not aid in the process whatsoever.

my hidden message was; a crit is where the audience has something thoughtful and valuable to provide you as feedback.

“it looks good” is the same feedback you could receive from a 3 year old, drives me nuts.

I like this as a start, but I think "facts’ might be a bit strong. For most aspects of critique, there are often little basis of facts, per se. Those that are I think too often go the difficult route of the intellectualization you mention - “the line on that form is awkward, because the human eye perceives curve as more feminine, built on our socio-humanistic historical perspective…”

Rather, I would perhaps propose that good critiques are rationalized opinions.

As has been mentioned “Looks bad” is pretty useless in terms of critique, but if it can be rationalized in some way “the forms aren’t cohesive and result in awkward pointy transitions”), the opinion becomes one that can be further discussed, debated or evaluated.

The best way to combat any critique, as such, is to ask the all-important follow-up question “why (do you think that)”?

A bit OT, but along the same line, the flip side of this is that all designers should be able to explain their decisions. I don’t necessarily mean research (though that can be part of, see the Alka-Seltzer thread for more on that), but rationale. As a designer, we all make choices. One line vs. another, one surface treatment or color, etc. If you are asked to explain it, and you’ve got nothing, you are just as bad as the reviewer who makes judgements without backing them up. YOU need to be able to answer the same “why” questions.

As a designer, design manager and someone who interacts frequently with clients, sales, etc. this skill is often one of the most important in a designer’s toolbox. Without it, you fall into the “mysterious artist” stigma, and the end result of your designs has little value.


I think this sums up the bad points of design crits and what to strive for.

FWIW (my training and jury experience is in architecture, which may be a bit different):

I think a lot of design students get in trouble thinking they have to “sell” their designs, that the crit is about the jury “liking” their project. Frankly, if all the jury is giving you tips on what you could do better (or just telling you that they like the project), you’ve failed. Much more interesting is if your proposal provokes an interesting argument about larger issues.

I usually tell students to hand the project over to the jury and stand back - if you get in the way or get frustrated and defensive, you won’t learn anything. If you are looking at the project from the same side as the jury, you can sometimes steer the conversation in a direction that interests you (often not - the jury members may have too much of their own agenda).

Needless to say, you won’t get anything from a jury that they don’t have to give you, so get what you can from the critics who are there. Be willing to be surprised.

Severn Clay-Youman

Yep I had the same problem with my lecturers and teachers when I was a student, you would get students getting HD’s for really poorly thought out designs, or designs which where very superfecial and lacked a lot of substance, and they would get praise from some not all but most of the lecturers.
After a few years of this nonsense it really put me off really bothering to try to impress my lecturers for HD’s, I rationalized at the time that they simply had very different opinions from me so why try to change my design practice to accommodate them.
The thing I learnt after being in the practice for a long time is that not all designers come from the same school of design, Hartmut Esslinger describes these four schools in his book, and each school has different value systems. I also realized that engineers and scientist critique each other differently to designers and there was value in there more methodical approach.
So for me when ever i critique someone or someones work, the first thing I ask where’s the design brief, and where’s the development work.
By reviewing the design brief and comparing its objectives and aims with the development work and with the final deliverable, you place the final design in its proper context.
For example if the design brief is very light and very ambiguous you know that the final deliverable maybe ambiguous as well, and that’s fine, it can mean many things, for instance the student or designer come from a more artistic school of design and therefore you must critique them on those merits, you don’t critique them on how functional or user centric the outcome is because doing so means you are critiquing with a bias in mind and that’s really not fair on the student.
If the brief is very detailed and has things around being user centric and targeting a certain target market, you look to the development work to see if the student or designer has actually attempted to tackle these issues and then see how this translates to the final deliverable, if the deliverable and the development work doesn’t align in a logical progression then that’s bad, because it means the student has a gap in their design process and this is bad as in a work context it means a designer will struggle to communicate designs with there clients.
I actually find it a lot easier to critique others by doing this, it also means that discussion revolves around the design practice and the skills and knowledge gap they have, you can highlight where a part of their design process requires more effort or thought and be able to explain why a certain dimension of their design fails because of this gap, it also creates a more constructive dialogue where the student or designer doesn’t feel threatened because students can sometimes feel that their design’s embody who they are, so by talking more to there process and approach rather then there final design you can avoid this conflict and ultimately help build them as a competent and thoughtful designer.

I’m with Jay here, I want to see the brief, or the specific goals of the project. So many parts of typical art school critique is very subjective. I learned how to do the song and dance back in school, and got rid of it pretty quickly right after school. I’m mostly interested in how appropriate your design is. Whether or not you accomplished the goals you set out to do. I’m looking for “did you do what you claimed you wanted to do?” I want to see that they’re in control of their work, and not just doing random things and whatever comes up comes up. So even if they don’t follow the brief exactly, if they can explain the reasoning why, and they successfully go down that new path, then I won’t look down on their design if it’s appropriate for what they say they wanted to do. I’ll just mark off points since they couldn’t follow directions :smiley:

I’ve always been interested in crits and their importance, and in reading the postings regarding this I’ve noticed that there isn’t one uniform understanding of what a crit is or is supposed to accomplish. This is, I believe, problematic and goes to the notion that all professions attempt to establish a language that is unique to itself. I agree with the comments made by both Rocketship and by designbot and others and think that maybe it’s time to codify some aspects of the crit that can be used by students to preevaluate their own work.

There’s a joke that goes as follows:

A mother mouse was walking in a cornfield when from behind a cornstalk jumped a cat and said Meow!! in a threatening manner. The mother mouse rushed to the front, looked up at the cat and said Bow Wow, Bow Wow and the cat ran away. The mother mouse turned to her babies and said, “you see the importance of a second language.”