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Eric Moore

Criticism is easily given, but rarely appreciated. At some point we have all had to critique someone else’s work or be critiqued by a client, manager, or teacher. The experience can be emotionally rattling.

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How to give and receive feedback

Criticism is easily given, but rarely appreciated. At some point we have all had to critique someone else’s work or be critiqued by a client, manager, or teacher. The experience can be emotionally rattling.

In part four of our design thinking talk, Eric Moore and Chris Do discuss ways to improve how you give and receive critique. A key component of constructive criticism is having a shared criteria to review the work.

During their conversation, Chris and Eric share memorable stories of critique from their experience as students, teachers, and professionals. Pro tip: grab a pen and paper before you listen to this one. You will want to take notes.

Oct 19

How to give and receive feedback

In part four of our design thinking talk, Eric Moore and Chris Do discuss ways to improve how you give and receive critique. A key component of constructive criticism is having a shared criteria to review the work.

Don’t defend your idea choices.

Criticism is easily given, but rarely appreciated. At some point we have all had to critique someone else’s work or be critiqued by a client, manager, or teacher. The experience can be emotionally rattling.

In part four of our design thinking talk, Eric Moore and Chris Do discuss ways to improve how you give and receive critique. A key component of constructive criticism is having a shared criteria to review the work.

During their conversation, Chris and Eric share memorable stories of critique from their experience as students, teachers, and professionals. Pro tip: grab a pen and paper before you listen to this one. You will want to take notes.

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Don’t defend your idea choices.

Episode Transcript

Eric:

Don't defend your idea choices. If someone says something to the effect of, "It's interesting you have purple over here on the call to action button." "Well, that's because I come from royalty and I really like the color purple." It's like, "Hold on." No defending the ideas. Just sit there, and final rule, say thank you.

Chris:

Joining me up on stage here is Eric Moore. He and I were talking about different styles of critiquing and we thought this would be useful and helpful for anybody who's ever been in a position where maybe you were on the raw end of a critique where you were made to feel less than the person that you were talking to, whether it's an instructor, or an art director, or some person in the management position, or a client, God forbid, just let you have it and just humiliated you.

You walked out tail tuck between legs and you didn't feel like you could hear anything. All you felt was this emotional rage bubbling up inside of you spilling out. Maybe your hands were shaking, maybe even went to the bathroom later and shed a tear or two. Well, we're going to talk about different critiquing styles and Eric and I are going to take this on from a couple different points of view.

Me mostly I want to spend some of the time talking about what I learned teaching for 15 years, my evolution as an instructor using a Socratic method and actually even hiring a professional teaching instructor to help coach me up because I just feel teaching is such a big part of my own identity, and a big part of teaching is critiquing. Eric's going to take a different spin on it. Eric, take it away.

Eric:

Thanks, Chris. Hello, everybody. My name's Eric Moore. Sometimes you know me as the design thinker and I spend a lot of time with communications helping executives and new leaders understand how to put design thinking to work in the way they communicate and lead. I also do a little thing called non-violent communication. Being non-violent in my words doesn't mean that sometimes we have to lay down some critique that might feel a little uncomfortable.

Chris:

Well, let's talk about this and I want to use a fancy word here. It's called pedagogy. It's like teaching theory. I think we're going to delve into that. I happen to have a deck here that I took notes from my six-week long session with Dr. Samuel Holtzman who was in charge of faculty development at ArtCenter. Super brilliant person and change the way that I critique. Maybe I can begin with a story.

Some of you may know this, but I went to a really amazing art and design school in Pasadena called ArtCenter. I remember first term, first semester in this class with one of the most brilliant teachers I've ever had in art and design his name is Roland Young. Roland Young is a petite Asian man. At that time, he was already old and he's even older now. He has shocking white hair, very short like a buzz cut.

He always wore the same clothes, sweatpants and a sweatshirt with sneakers. He came in, I'm like, "Who is this older Asian man and what is he doing?" I didn't get it, but the class was called communication design. I didn't even know what that meant. I thought this was graphic design. What Roland taught us how to do was how to come up with ideas, how to communicate that in what many people would associate with advertising communication.

It's conceptual thinking. How you're able to use symbols and semiotics to communicate a bigger message where 1 plus 1 equals 11. It was a big mental stretch for me, but part of the class was we were all on pins and needles A, because Roland is brilliant. I remember calling my mom a couple weeks into the class saying, "Mom, I think I met my first genius. He is a creative genius." He'll look at your drawings and it's like there's no idea there.

He'll come up, he'll look at, he'll squint, he'll tilt his head a little bit, and then he'll go to the chalkboard, he'll draw something and he goes, "Do you mean this?" Everybody's like, "Oh my God, how did he see that?" It was all there, all the ingredients, flour, egg, salt, whatever. Then he turns it into this amazing pastry or whatever. It's this creation and we were all just blown away so everybody was on edge. Also, because Roland came from the old school thinking and learning.

He went into ArtCenter way back in the day when they would humiliate students as just a warm up activity. He had a little bit of that edge with them. I remember one time, there's a gentleman, his name is James, won't portray James's last name, but James was in design and he was a tall guy. I think he had actually a mullet in a jean jacket and so he's this rocker sensibility and he made this ad for Fender guitars. He had the guitar and it was tied up to a stake and it was a witch or something and there was a fire around it.

Roland looked at him and James Towers over him by like a foot at least probably more if my memory serves me correct, and Roland looks at him and he looks at the work he says, "Are you a designer?" I'm like, "Oh my god, this is going to be bad. I'm already feeling, it's not my critique and I'm just sensing within the room everybody's tightening up, really tight." James like, "Yes." He goes, "I don't think you are." I was like, "Oh my god, where's this going to go? Where do you go from that?"

Here's a person that everybody respects and he's getting torn apart. Then, Roland says, "Look at her. Look at this woman, her name's G.A. Small, super small, petite Korean woman and says, "You see the way she dressed, look at her face, look at her scarf, look at her. Everything that she put together today was designed. I don't think you're a designer." There wasn't a debate, it was just his opinion almost stated from God to this person.

I was like devastated for James. I didn't know what happened, but we all just emotionally recovered. There were these moments that happened in between these illuminating brilliant moments with Roland and moments where he just tore people apart. He tore them apart, like the kind of person who would take your work and just flick it off the rail and it would just fall on ground and just move on, and they didn't even say a word. I didn't see that personally, but I've heard stories and I believe him.

The interesting thing with James is this, is that James later on, unbeknownst to me drops out of design. He's still in school and still in class with him. What happened was he switched over to advertising. For some reason in that one moment, Roland could see something that he was not meant to be a designer. He switched over to advertising. Then many years later, fast forward, he winds up teaching advertising at ArtCenter and becomes a prominent person at art center.

That story, that moment still haunts me to this day. There's something about my style of critique and the way that it communicate that in one way pays homage to professors like Roland, who sometimes they lay down the truth in a way that's very difficult to hear using very violent language. I feel that the opposite of this are instructors who give you a pat in the back who say everything's great, and then you graduate from school and you can't get a job. You feel like the entire institution has failed you.

There's got to be some kind of balance in between these two moments because both of them don't fit within the modern 21st century way of thinking and teaching and critiquing work. At least that's my opinion. I'm going to pause there and throw it back over to you Eric.

Eric:

Well, I think he did him a favor. He would've wasted a ton of time being something he really wasn't good at perhaps. Is that a takeaway that you had from that story, Chris?

Chris:

Well, I can only tell you the stories that I know of the ones that I've found out after the fact and there's evidence of it where it worked out. I don't know of the times in which he said something so soul-crushing that something really bad happened where somebody goes into a deep state of depression and can't emotionally recover from this. It's so shell-shocked that they completely just drop out.

That perhaps if somebody had just taken them under their wing and he helped them to find a roadmap back, I don't know of those stories. I do know that people drop out all the time because it's a very rigorous program. It is not easy to get through, especially if you're really apply yourself. The standards are impossibly high. I think teachers make it a point to give you more work than they know you can do, knowing that you have four or five other instructors that are asking you to do the exact same thing.

There's something out there, but I'll tell you now, my own moment here. Many years after I graduated school, I'm invited to come in and do senior review at Otis and they invite a handful of industry professionals to do a midpoint check in for seniors for their thesis project. One, I just thought that calling it a thesis project for undergrads was a little ambitious because they're mostly learning tools and production techniques.

What kind of thesis could you possibly have? As often as the case, they bring in some heavy hitters from ILM, from very prominent design studios, from LA and from around. They all carry a lot of prestige with them. I've been teaching at Otis for a number of years so I'm used to seeing these students. I'm here for senior review and we're cramped in, we're all packed in a tiny little computer lab, super hot that could have contributed to some parts.

I remember telling myself this thing, because I've been known to do this before, Eric, this is my less evolved state, which is I tend to get really into the work and critique it pretty heavy. Not in a personal attack way, but I really will tell you here's everything that I'm seeing, feeling, and thinking and my reactions to it with a couple of pieces of information as to how you might move forward. Sometimes it goes poorly. I can tell people recoil when I do that.

I was telling myself, "Chris, don't Hulk out." Bruce Banner, The incredible Hulk, "You won't like me when I'm angry." Just keep it chill today. It's just a light day. This woman was presenting her work and she presented a music video that she'd been working on for a whole semester because this is the second to last semester. Supposedly, she should be pretty far along here and I don't say anything at all.

The assistant department chair goes from one guest to the next and ask them for their opinions and I can tell what's happening right now. The first person would step up and they'd say something nice, they'd talk about something just dancing around the issue and it's glaring to me. The next person would go, similar things, third person. Everybody's just giving her an easy pass and I can feel my temperature rising, my blood is starting to boil.

Not so much that this woman's work needs a lot of work and it's disappointing. I'm disappointed in my colleagues. These are professional industry titans, captains of industry, and they're not saying anything. This poor woman, the way I saw it, was going to graduate from this program with a really terrible portfolio. I'm trying saying that objectively it's really not good and she won't know why and she won't know how, and she won't know where to go.

Then I got angry, but I can't get angry at my fellow professional industry people critiquing the work. What happens, a switch goes off of my brain and I didn't want to say anything, but at that time, Art Durinski says, "Chris, do you have anything to add in the way that art does?" Pitch goes higher, head goes higher, tilts to the right, almost as if baiting me, and knowing that the shark is just ready to devour. With that, that switch got flipped.

I looked at the work, I was looking at the work and I said to her it's like, "What is it that you aspire to do when you're done with school?" She said, "I want to be a music video director." I said, "Whose band is this that you shot?" "It's my brother's punk rock band." I said, "Okay. I work with directors. I am one myself to qualify, usually what a director has is a vision, a way of looking at the music and interpreting the lyrics and bringing something to it."

"What I see is a three camera setup that's locked off that you cut between the three with almost no lighting, no narrative, nothing. To me, it looks like your camera operator based on this piece that you made. Can you tell me what it is that you wanted to say about the way you look at the world with this piece?" She didn't say anything. I could feel the room because it went from nice fluffy comment to nice fluffy comment to just me going, "Boom." I don't know what happened. I felt like I blacked out and I could just feel all the adrenaline in me.

It's just this huge dump and then I walked out of the room after the critique was done, she just looked at me stunned like a deer in the headlights. I walk out in the hallway where it's a little cooler. I'm like, "Oh my God, what did I just say? What did I do? Why did I do this?" Then a bunch of students came out, they gathered around me in a circle. I was like, "Oh no, they're going to tell me I was just a demon." They looked at me and they cut the tension by saying, "Oh my God, all semester long we've been waiting for someone to say this and I just can't believe she got to pass up until now."

I was still in a little bit of shock myself. Why did I say all those things? Why is it my responsibility to say this? Four other people talked before me. Pause on the story, many years later as I have interns coming from Otis students, and then one of them comes up to me many years later, probably two or three years later, and said to me, "Chris, you remember that girl that you critiqued?" I'm like, "Which one? There's been so many." The one that I'm like, "Oh, that one?" I was like, "Oh no, I don't like those."

Do you remember that time that you did that thing and how those stories began? I was bracing like, "Oh my God, did I ruin her life? What happened?" They said, "She's a very successful photographer now. I think something that you said to her flipped a switch in her brain and she got her act together and now she's doing well taking photos." I was relieved because maybe I was rolling young in that moment. I don't know.

Eric:

You and your colleagues at Otis, did you knowingly play good cop/bad cop?

Chris:

No, we didn't even know each other. We're invited, we accept, and we show up, and it's always a different group of people.

Eric:

I thought you were going to tell me that the young lady got a pass by everybody because she was the daughter of the head of Paramount or something.

Chris:

Well, that would be put in mouth moment there for me. If that was the case, that would be career over.

Eric:

That's a resume updating moment for you, sir.

Chris:

I wonder why I never got invited back. I'm just kidding, I did.

Eric:

There's a couple of things I've taken away from there, but even though you didn't knowingly do it, I could see value in having what we might call good cop/bad cop where there's some gentle ways of expressing some feedback. Then there's Chris, which I didn't quite take that as a Hulk out, but I understood what you were feeling in at the moment. Why did she get a pass? We're not doing her any favor, she's paying all this money to get this education presumably. You have to give it the way you'd had. What did you learn from that?

Chris:

To me what I learned from that?

Eric:

Not the refresh, but the stepping out of the room and hearing the students essentially validate your thoughts.

Chris:

Well, it's something that my evolution and my staff critiquing and looking at work is very different from the way it started. I think initially when people invite me to look at work, I just assume that that was a true invitation to say, "Chris, based on your professional experience, can you give me that Roland Young ArtCenter critique?" Now, I used to do that and I could just tell people did not want to see it or hear it. Most people just want to hear nice things about their work.

As it evolved, I would then ask people when they say, "What do you think?" I would ask them, "How can I help you today?" The interesting thing when I do portfolio reviews is when I ask that question, sometimes they don't even ask me to critique the work. They'll just say, "What do you think about this portfolio case?" In my mind I'm thinking, "What a waste of my time. If this is really what you want from me is to critique your portfolio case, "I'll be happy to do it, but you friend are going to be in deep trouble in the future."

I just say, "The case looks nice, it's soft, and looks professional and the latches work really well." I don't even offer anything that's not solicited. Now, I try to operate from this place of unless you give me explicit permission and you direct it towards what it is that you want, I would not say anything because I realized something in my desire, in my spirit to help people what I was doing was not being perceived as helpful and I can just tell.

What I learned from the experiences, it's not my obligation or duty to do the job of what the instructors that got to this moment didn't do, and what these other professional people did not say either. I was just really upset and I wasn't upset at her, I was just upset at the institution, at the system. Now of course, they have produced many brilliant students before and other critiques have gone really well. This one in particular stood out to me because it was one of those moments where everything up until this point failed.

I didn't want to be that last lever in a machine that fails people like you know how they say the system allows people to fall through the cracks and left behind. To me at least, I interpreted this situation as an example that, and I just couldn't sit on my hands and say nothing. I feel like I would betray myself. Shortly thereafter, I stopped doing these critiques because I can't reconcile that part. I've learned that if I can't get permission from the person in a way that's clear, in a way that helps them, then I just should not show up.

It's like me seeing an injustice and sitting by and saying, "Well, social norms dictate that I just bite my tongue." I stopped doing those critiques, not immediately, but I just stopped doing them. What did you think I should have learned, Eric?

Eric:

You can't ask me that, Chris. It's your journey.

Chris:

Well, you have a perspective. I can ask you for your opinion.

Eric:

I do, but I would not tell you how you should learn something.

Chris:

Tell me what your perspective is.

Eric:

I think you hit it pretty well, frankly, which is having digging into a sense of duty, what you said ended up being justified. There's just an element of that where you can sleep well at night, but I do like the, maybe nuance is not the right word, but the distinction you make between, "I'm not here to be critical of her, but the system's failing her and I want to help her." You're like an Avenger keeping in with the Hulk theme.

You're seeing someone potentially slip through the cracks and I like that. Then, I think you're going to share with us next, what was the next evolution from there? How did you become more nuanced? How did you get to, I don't know, say an environment where that type of feedback was welcomed or invited.

Chris:

Now, Eric, it'd probably not surprise you or anyone here that I did develop a particular reputation of both ArtCenter and Otis as one of the hardest instructors. Not because I gave him so much work, but because there was just going to be nowhere to hide. I'm just a real straight shooter. I would tell people first day of class, what is it you want to learn? We will design this entire class around the things that you feel are most important.

I take great responsibility in delivering my end of the bargain I'm not here to phone it in. The other thing I want to say is this is if you're here because you want to get a credit and you don't want to do the work, I'm totally cool with that because I'm not your mom or your dad, I'm not here to babysit you. I really don't care if you don't want to do the work. I won't even ride you on it, but don't do this one thing. Don't skip out on the work and then ask for time and attention because I'm going to give it to the people who do show up.

That's the bargain we have, okay? If you want to slack off play video games, totally fine with me. I'll give you a C, maybe a D and you should be okay with that. Focus on the classes that are important. My ego isn't that sensitive that if you don't feel like this is one of your important classes, totally fine by me, but I'm not going to reward you either for not doing the work and then the class begins. Now, the evolution of it is, this is one time during a faculty meeting I was introduced to Dr. Holtzman.

ArtCenter was going through a period of evolution where they wanted to unify or have some uniform way of teaching. The classes were similar and students would know going in what it is that they were learning. He was in charge of developing with Allison Goodman a rubric so that every class there was clear learning outcomes, the course learning outcomes, CLOs. There were the assignments that you had to present, and what the assignments were designed to do relative to the course learning outcomes.

If you don't know what a rubric is, it's a fantasy word, it's just like a grid. You could think of it as an Excel spreadsheet. On the X axis at the top, you would list the learning outcomes. For example, if you want to teach typography, one learning outcome is to be proficient at using three type faces or understanding scale, balance and contrast. Understanding principles of repetition and figure ground ambiguity, let's just say those are not what you would want to learn, but let's just say those are it.

Then you would list how many assignments down the Y axis. You would say, "Assignment number one is basic composition. Assignment number two, using one typeface, assignment three, design a poster for a museum or something." Then you would put in the parameters so that each assignment with specifically design to touch upon the learning outcomes. It was very professional way of teaching so we had to think about the assignments relative to the learning outcomes.

The reason why we needed to do this was it needed to fit in into the larger curriculum so they could know who's before you, who's after you, and what skills don't need to be taught, again, in theory. Does that make sense? All the assignments didn't have to teach all five learning outcomes, but they had to touch on a few such that when completed, the student will learn all five things. Now, Dr. Holtzman had this worksheet that he shared with us, I'll pull up here and the worksheet goes something like this.

He says whenever he is working with the new instructor who he's been tasked with onboarding, he'll ask him some of these questions and you want to get a pen out for this part. I'm just going to warn you here, since this is an audio only format. The questions are something like this, "What do we want our students to learn? What do we want our students to know, to understand, to experience, to be aware of, and to be able to do?"

It's a little worksheet that's the beginning that helps you to start thinking about the learning outcomes. Then, he has two follow up questions, which is how do we know that they know and are able to do? That's some criteria, an objective criteria, and then to what degree? I find that these questions to be amazing because whenever I'm writing a talk or doing a workshop, I ask myself these things, "What do I want the participants to learn to know, to understand experience, to be aware of, and to be able to do?"

Now, some of the answers will be the same, but that's okay. You think about what do we want them to experience? Well, I want my students to have fun. I want them to feel relaxed. I want them to feel like someone knows what they're doing, but is also at the same level as them. It's not a hierarchical classroom. I want them to be able to laugh at themselves and each other. That's the experience part. When you start with that, all of a sudden you start thinking about your assignments differently and how you teach.

Doing it this way was so structured that at first a lot of instructors rebelled against this, "No, I'm not doing it this way." Ultimately, everybody had to fall in line. I was one of those instructors, I don't know what I'm going to teach until I teach it. I have a couple assignments and they get changed based on the students. My style teaching is we theoretically have a schedule, but the schedule can change because if students are stuck, there's no point for me to move on to assignment number two or number three.

Where I'll redesign assignment two to solve the problem where the majority of class is stuck. Like in the Forrest Gump movie where Tom Hank says, "Life's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." Well, with ArtCenter students, you never know what you're going to get either. They come in all different skill sets, a different mastery of tools, a different background. It's always a mixed bag. My teaching style has evolved a lot.

Something else that Dr. Holtzman talks about is this concept called scaffolding towards autonomy. What you're trying to do is you're not trying to create robots who are your workers, and you're the art director because it creates a codependent relationship. Where they go home each day, they try to figure out what to do and they can't because they don't have you there to tell them what to do. We change the focus away from telling the students what to do, which is very prescriptive into saying and sharing how we make decisions, how we see.

It's very different. I don't tell you what to do, I just tell you what I see, what I experience, what I feel, and how I make decisions. Then you as a student are asked, "What would you like to do?" This is not the role in young school of teaching. This is very different. What we have to do is we have to have clear learning outcomes. The assignments need to be designed to tailor fit into those outcomes. We have to share how we're going to grade and assess the work, that's how you make decisions.

Then we have to show examples as a benchmark for what they should be able to do. This is at least the theory. The objective or the goal then is to shift students from being defensive to defending choices, from being emotional, to being objective. Instead of us pushing information in the students, pull it out of themselves, and it's a pretty radically different way of teaching. Now, some of you may be of this modern pedagogical teaching style, then you're like, "Duh."

I graduated in 1995 and I was taught by people who probably went to school in the '70s or '80s. It's a very different thing.

Eric:

I appreciate the share. No, I don't think it's duh. I think there's still a lot of old school rubrics out there so don't be too critical on yourself. Does Dr. Holtzman have a position on critique?

Chris:

He does. His way is he has a lot of different theories and expressions. I'm hoping that I do it justice by sharing it with you. He has this thing called I to eye, I to get to eye. What we do is we share individual experiences like what I'm feeling, and those experiences are an invitation for the student to be more introspective. If I share my way naturally, the default is in the mind of the student it leads to, "What's my way then?"

Chris has a way, Eric has a way, what is my way? This allows for a lot more room than to just try to show up to class or to look at the work in the same way that the instructor does. We're trying to create experiences for each individual. Sharing observational techniques and decision making processes. What we want to do is we want to facilitate not so much teach within a shared criteria. He calls the criterion for critique.

What is it? How are we going to look at the work? I remember when I first started working with him at ArtCenter, he said, "Chris, when you're teaching sequential to sign, what are the five things that you're looking for?" I was a little thrown back like, "Okay." I said, "Well, when we're designing storyboards, the first thing we're looking for is clarity. Is it clear? Is it confusing? Without it being clear, I can't continue on." You would think that's pretty silly why would students make storyboards that unclear? Well, you haven't seen these storyboards before.

When you're not a confident design of what you do is you add lots and lots of things because you're not sure there's anything there. Everything you add impedes my ability to read the frame. Is it clear? The next one is, it is interesting cause you could be clear and uninteresting. That doesn't really help me you have to create a sense of drama. The decision making process that I'm going through at that point is it dramatic or is it boring?

There's tools that we can use to make it more interesting by framing it differently, by using a different lens, by controlling the light or the composition of the objects in the frame. Like Wes Anderson has a very, very specific way of shooting his films, mostly symmetrical, everything pointing towards a single point perspective almost. Then, if it's clear and it's interesting, does it build a sequence or is it a non sequitur? Every frame I can tell what's going on it's really dramatic.

You've got me hooked in, but it's jarring because when I try to add it up, I can't figure it out. Sequential design is they're supposed to flow from frame to frame. I, as a person looking at it, should be able to tell the story and read between what's happening between the frames. What Scott McCloud calls in his book, Understanding Comics, I think that's what it's called, is called closure. Our mind fills in the gaps between the two frames that we can see.

It can only happen if you're very intentional on how you set up the shots. The criteria number four is does it lead to a satisfying conclusion? It has flow, it's interesting, it's clear, but when I get to the end, I'm like, "Yeah, and so what?" You have to introduce an element of surprise that's been set up within the previous frame. At the end you're like, "Whoa, I didn't realize we're inside of a tiny microverse, whatever it is." Not a great example. It has to have a satisfying conclusion that interrupts expectations.

The last one is now that we've got this thing, can we introduce transitional elements to make the story flow even better? In that way he's like, "Great, write this up, tape it to the wall." One, clear, two dramatic, three, sequential, four, satisfying, disruptive, conclusion. Number five, transitions. The next class, he sat in the class and he'd watched me work. I would tape this up on the wall like three printouts, and then we would put up the work.

Then, I would ask each student based on the criteria that shared criteria in for critique, how would you interpret this work? Now, there's a couple other things that we do here, which I've evolved into. The person who's receiving the critique doesn't say anything. One of their classmates takes notes for them because it's very different when it's not your work what you're able to write notes. Then the person and the class together critique the work.

My job is to instructor is to help people say, "What is it about the sequence as it relates to the criterion of being clear might you want to point out?" I'm not going to tell them what it is, but I'm going to direct them towards looking at that. They're like, "Chris is saying something about this isn't clear. What frame isn't clear? What can we do about it?" What happens inevitably is it's very efficient to be prescriptive and give people your feedback, "I like this, I don't like that. Here's what I would do. Here's what you should do." Super efficient, I could do that in minutes. Doing it this way takes hours.

I had to change my classroom from three hours to five hours because with eight students, I couldn't get through all of them. Self-discovery takes time and you have to be really patient.

Eric:

Lot to unpack there, Dr. Doe.

Greg Gunn:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back. Welcome back to our conversation.

Eric:

What does this look like from a professional business client interaction? That's where I can maybe add some input, but I want to make sure we get to the students first.

Chris:

Jason, I know from ArtCenter, Jason, what's your story?

Jason:

Hey, Chris, thanks for having me on. By saying thank you because every time that I've interacted with you in the past over the years, you've always made time for questions like no matter who's asking you for your time, and I really respect that you always give attention to people when they ask for it and give really helpful answers. I just want to say thank you first off. Second is, I was a student at ArtCenter from 2009 to 2015.

Critiques was the one thing that I really looked forward to because it was always really, really entertaining. Not just educational, but super entertaining, really fun. I viewed it from the standpoint of, "This is a point for me and my classmates to share what we've been working on to build camaraderie, to learn from each other." My takeaway from critique every time in class was that this is an opportunity to not just learn from our instructor, but I often found that I actually learned more from my classmates because when you put your work up on the wall, it is the great equalizer.

Everyone sees how much effort you've put in, and then everyone also gets to see what other people are doing. They get to learn from that. They learn new techniques, they learn new ideas. That is the core experience for ArtCenter for me was critique. Because you could spend all night, literally overnight working on your project, heads down, not looking at what other people are doing, and then come that morning, 8:00 AM class starts, you put your work up on the wall, that's the first time that you get exposed to well, not 29, but 15 other ways to [inaudible 00:36:42] you're tackling.

That's when you see, "I could have done it this way or I could have done it that way, or I've never this problem from that perspective." Right away, without even the instructor coming up and actually critiquing your work, yet you are already scanning the room, you're seeing what other people are doing, you're learning. During my first couple terms, when I was in color theory, my instructor was Adam Ross. Adam Ross teaches color theory at ArtCenter.

One of his notable students is what's that guy from Linkin Park? Oh my goodness, I'm having a brain fart.

Chris:

Chester?

Jason:

One of the guys from Linkin Park, Chester who did all their album art himself. He told us a lot of stories like that. What's great about Adam was that he had this one question that he would always ask us during critique that was like this light bulb moment. That one question was,, "What is your relationship to X?" He would go up during critique, he would look at someone's work, he would look at it, put his hand on his chin, do the head toe go, "Interesting."

Everyone would think, "Why? What's so interesting? What do you see that we don't?" He would look at the student and say, "So and so Eric, for example, Eric, what is your relationship to pop?" Everyone would be like, What do you mean? What is your relationship to pop art because I'm looking at your work here and it looks like it's heavily influenced by pop. People were expecting Adam to dive into specifics about composition and layout, and all the technical jargon, but instead he flipped it, and he would ask us a very personal question.

He would say, "What is your relationship to?" It would be different for person first and based on what kind of work that they do. I found that really interesting because that question, that single question made us question, what is it that influences our work? What is it that we're taking in at an unconscious level that's influencing what we output on the wall? That one question led to many other questions that really dug up a lot of personal history for each student that made us better understand ourselves and our influences.

What goes into the decisions that we make that ultimately end up as what we produce and put up on the wall. By asking that one question, it always led to the aha moment for understanding ourselves as a designer, as a person. I just thought that was genius.

Eric:

Thanks for sharing, Jason. I was thinking about this and I'm like, "Chris, yes, you're awesome teacher, but we aren't all teachers. How do I actually put this to use?" I'm hoping I'm not ruffling your feathers too much, but I do love your stories. Let's talk about some of the business.

Chris:

Let's do it.

Eric:

Typically, there's a reason why one would critique. Critique is just a fancy word, really in my experience, just getting critical feedback. That could be a couple of examples. Before we jump into that, let me give you my brief definition of critique. It's really only three things. First and foremost, it's a process for not only giving, but receiving feedback that is critical, but not personal. Chris, I think you hit on that pretty well.

Nothing need further there. The second thing is just should uncover blind spots much like what Jason was saying. I didn't think of it that way, but it should also force you to examine your biases or assumptions. One bias that I have is I love the color blue contrasted with stark blacks like this just a bias. I don't mean it in a negative bias, but there are some of those as well.

The third thing, you must enter a critique in a learning state of mind or a growth mindset, whatever term you want to use, because your work can only get better. I don't mean sitting around tinkering with something, but I've seen Chris look at a piece, I think it was in your typography course, you'll go, "If you just move this horizontal rule this way, golden. Just one little simple tweak. If you're willing to be open to that can be a real game changer." Any of that definition that you would disagree with or add to Chris?

Chris:

Perfect.

Eric:

In my experience, I'm typically working with either there are some form of leader, either they're new to leadership, and they don't know what to do in terms of communicating, getting certain design elements out that boost their message, or it could be someone, a team. I'll work with teams and advertising who they're wicked good at creating beautiful collateral or web pages, landing pages, or they're really good copywriters.

It's rarely that unicorn that does it all. It's usually a team, and I'm just going to say it, they're a sensitive bunch. I've tried to come up with a set of call it rules or a process to critiquing where no one's soul is crushed. There are two types of critiques. One that I call a work in progress critique, the other I call a milestone critique. Now, work in progress sounds much like what it is, it's happening in real time.

It's getting some insight from someone who maybe have a different perspective or it's me reaching out to my client and saying something like, "I'm feeling off here. What do you think?" Let's say I'm about to do some social media post with some graphics, so I'll get their input. What I do is I ask them to hone in on specific feedback like a select item or a key feature and attribute. I'll give you a couple examples. Chris, let's say you're in the early stages of a website design.

You might seek feedback on the layout of the wire frames versus the use of typography. Here you want to get a sense of flow and where the viewer's eye is landing. This can help you correct anything that might challenge the viewer. It also helps to have a richer discussion. The beautiful byproduct of that is you're invariably teaching your client how to speak design for a lack of better words. Another example might be let's say you're a logo designer doing some form of brand identity.

You might want to just know the gestalt principles and what's showing up in your logo versus say color psychology. This could mean you drew a square and a triangle and they're pretty close to one another. For you, you see a rocket, but your client looks at it and goes, "Actually, I see a house." These works in progress critiques when they're done early and often, they can help you avoid those lengthy or disastrous revisions.

Chris:

There is something that I want to point out because I think this where you're pivoting, this conversation is super helpful for anyone who's working with clients because we have to direct the clients into what to look at and how to look at it because they're unfamiliar with our creative process. If you don't do that, you don't have a structure for that. You're inviting yourself for disaster basically.

Eric:

I'm getting to that, but I want to make sure as a group we understand what I see are two common types of critiques. You can push back and say there's some nuance, but really there's just two. What's happening in real time like help me get through this. Then there's milestone critiques, much like what Chris was describing. The young woman had to present this video had to be a completed project.

I would go back to the website again, but this time you have completed a major milestone in creating a checkout page, purchasing e-commerce, if you just completed the initial release of the website checkout process and you need genuine feedback to know what's working and what's not. You have to be open to some of that criticality. I'll talk about what that means about being open to the criticality. Another example, if you're more on the writing side, is brand mission or vision statements.

Write it all the way out, put it out there. It might feel a little awkward, but show your full statement, and you'll get an opportunity to describe why you chose the words you did, the descriptors and how you got there. Work in progress critique, milestone critique. Now, what are the rules for having a critique? There's ones I call rules for the creative or you as the presenter and rules for the critic. Some might call it rules of engagement if you will.

For the creative, I want you to take note, grab a pin if you still have it handy. First rule, write down what you want to present before you present it. What I mean by that is you want to have it clear in your brain what language you're going to use, what was the design challenge. Be very specific and clear with your language because it helps those who are non-creative and those who are about to give feedback know specifically what to focus on.

Once you've written that down and you're actually in presentation mode, here comes rule number two. Don't go more than three minutes. There's just so much we can process, but when it comes to presenting your work, keep it to about three minutes. Sometimes it can go a little bit longer, but I found three minutes is that nice sweet spot. Once you present, there's a sequence where you ask the critics, "Are there any clarifying questions?"

Sometimes language escapes us and it may be confusing to the critic. That third rule is ask clarifying questions and I'm going to get into that a little bit more. Then you unpack the feedback. Now, it's time for feedback. You start with what I like to call roses. What did you like about my design? Whatever the thing is that you're presenting. Once they've exhausted that, then move on. What do you find challenging? Lastly, how might I build on these ideas?

The reason you do that, you unpack that is one, it helps you emotionally to get prepared for some of those gut punches that might come your way. It also forces the critic to write them down as well. They too own it to you to bere clear and unambiguous about what feedback they're giving you. This one is the fifth rule, but I think it's the most important. Chris, I know you'll back me up on this one. Don't defend your idea choices.

If someone says something to the effect of, "It's interesting you have purple over here on the call to action button." "Well, yeah, that's because I come from royalty and I really like the color purple. It's like, "Hold on. No defending the ideas." Just sit there and final rule, say thank you. Now, I'll pause there and say one final thing before we move on to rules for the critic. Feedback or criticism is like a gift, you can accept it, you be gracious.

Once the critic's out of the room, send it to the return pile. You don't have to listen to it, you don't have to do it. If it's that painful, put it in the return list as if it's a wedding gift. This thing's going back to William Sonoma. Chris, I'll stop there before I move on to the critic.

Chris:

I like it. I have a slight nuance to the thing, but I want you to keep flowing with this. Let's get through it. Go ahead.

Eric:

Feel free to interrupt. That's the creative, that's you as the presenter. Those are some simple rules. Now, the critic for the all of you that want to give your opinions got some rules for you as well. When it's your turn, you can only ask clarifying questions. It is important that you don't say things like, "Well, you should have done this, or why didn't you add that?" What those really are advice questions. You're giving advice hidden inside of a question.

What you want to do is ask clarifying questions. Maybe during the presentation they skipped through something and you didn't quite understand or you'd want to understand, "Are we only looking at wire frames or are we looking at the typography?" Those are totally reasonable questions for clarification. The next is of course, as you're listening to the brief or the presentation, you as a critic should be writing down what you like, what you found challenging, and what you think can be improved.

When you're, what you think can be improved, you might make suggestions. They don't have to be long-winded notes, they could be an idea on a sticky note or something. To Chris's point, if it's written down and it's from your perspective, you're then essentially giving the presenter gifts at the end because they'll take those notes and either action on them or not. Keep it one idea or one critique per note, and that's it.

Provide the written notes to the presenter of the team and hopefully your designer will follow up with you. I'll stop there, Chris, and let you add your nuance.

Chris:

I like that. The impulse to tell people what to do is very strong, as you say, the force is strong in this one. What kind of tips or advice do you have for people who are in a position of giving a critique, whether it's a client or an art director, somebody like that to resist telling people and being super prescriptive?

Eric:

Well, the first thing I ask them to do is write it down. That's it. Usually, when they're writing it down, there's something psychologically as they're writing it, they're like, "Oh gosh, this seems like it's coming off harsh." It gets you to pause. Versus what we tend to do as humans, we just blurt things out and then later we're like, "Oh my goodness, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way."

When you write something down, you have a little bit more clarity on your thoughts and how to express it. That doesn't mean you can't be critical, but maybe it changes the phrasing of the words you use.

Chris:

That's fascinating. I've never done that before. That's really interesting. Before you react, be more intentional and thoughtful with your communication just to act of writing it down because your hand can only move so fast, you write slower than we can speak. Just that moment and looking at the words and forcing us maybe to choose words more carefully, quite interesting approach. Is there anything else?

Eric:

No, the only thing I would add is this is particularly useful if you use a whiteboard or sticky notes, something. I don't want to say physical always because we're not always, we're in this sort weird hybrid remote world. That written sticky note, if you will, it can be posted up easily. Someone can write it, post it, get it off their brain pretty quickly. I find that's been pretty helpful in my critiques because I might forget something and go back, and it's just a nice way to have it available.

Chris:

That's wonderful. One of the things that I've adopted when I was looking at work, both as a professional and as a professor, as an instructor is to try to tell people I'm not always good at this there because evidence with the many videos that are out there on YouTube, which is I try and say, here's what I'm seeing. If we're in a classroom, it's different, but I know it shouldn't be different, but it is different for me because we have hours to go through stuff.

I don't have to be mindful of the number of people watching it later. God, it took forever to do. I'll tell people like, "Here's what I see in this frame. How does that line up with what your intention is?" I'll tell them a lot of "I" statements versus "you" statements, you become, becomes prescriptive and can lead a person to react defensively versus I like you can't deny my experiences, but you can say, "Well, I don't like the way you said you to me."

I would say something like, "I'm confused by this. I don't know where to look. I think I want to stare at that book, but then this other thing is drawing my eye towards it." Then they get to decide, "That wasn't my intention. I need to make some adjustments."

Eric:

Can I stop you there? That is a great example of a clarifying question. Insofar as you're not giving any advice, you're not even critiquing really. I need help and that's a great way to have someone lean into it. Now, I think you're going to go there, but I think you can unpack the confusion, please continue.

Chris:

I can most definitely unpack the confusion. I think the thing that you said that really resonated with me was critique is feedback. I as the creator of a piece, whether it's a website or a logo, want to make sure my intentions are clear because there's a signal that's transmitted and then there's another person that receives that signal. This could be your client or it could be your boss.

What I'm trying to do in the best of my ability is to give that feedback and my observations on how I feel and how I experience it and where my eye goes. Then that way you can then make the decisions. The opposite of this is to say, "Well. This isn't working for me, you should do this, you should change that." Now, we're being super prescriptive and the person doesn't actually walk away with the feedback that came in for, which is completely different.

Now, I've had situations in the past when I was reviewing work from new graduates, my studio, and I remember a time when I was very uncomfortable giving critique because I didn't want to hurt people's feelings. Now, this is prior to me teaching. Someone would work really long, maybe even all night, and the next morning we would look at the work and it was a total, this is a very judgemental word, a disaster. I was like, "Where do we miscommunicate because A, the clients will never buy this and I don't even know how this solves the brief."

I'd have to sit down with the person and feel that tension because they're so excited they want to see their ideas go through. I say to them, and I struggled with this because emotionally I don't want to hurt people's feelings and you have a right to explore your creativity and who am I to tamp down your genius, your genuisity. Then what happens is we have a conversation and then I start to mix up by words, get a little bit a meander with the critique and the feedback.

Then, they go away and work and it's pretty much the same. I've gone through this entire spectrum of giving very soft, fuzzy critique to then getting super direct than out, using more "I" statements and being less prescriptive.

Eric:

That raises something for me as well. Chris. Sometimes you just have to enter a state of critique, meaning maybe you weren't ready to have that discussion if your words were meandering or maybe I'm misreading. Is that because you were not being as direct as you'd like and you were using soft words? Were you just not in the zone?

Chris:

I was hiding my true feedback.

Eric:

There's something I want to make a distinction on. Chris, you do this, man, I would totally give you a real hug. Every time you get on these platforms and someone comes up and wants to ask you a question, you're like, "Ask the question. Don't give me your story, ask your question." You're really dogmatic about that and I mean that in a good way, because you're not trying to waste your time and others, but it gets to clarity.

That's what I think is the most important thing here is if both the critic and the presenter are very, very clear, "Chris, I only want you to critique X, Y, and Z, then you spend less time on the A and the B and the C, and like, "Why'd you choose purple? Why did you choose green?" No, just can you tell me, does the flow work? Is the copyright, does the CTA look good? If it's that clear, then there's less feelings to be hurt because you've been given permission to, I don't want to say attack, but to critique narrowly what it is you want Chris to look at. So sorry, I interrupted you there, but you hit it.

Chris:

Not at all, I appreciate that. Anki, do you have a really short story that you want to share about how it feels to be on the receiving end? Not the whole story, just how you feel when you're the person receiving a pretty direct critique?

Anki:

Hi, Chris. Hi, Eric. I think I've tried most of the strategies mentioned by Eric here, and I think they work. Before applying this strategy, and I learned the strategies from Futur and Chris, from you. Before this, I had tendencies to defend my design decisions. Whenever I present my work I would ask my client, "Do you like this?" This typically led to very [inaudible 00:59:26] criticism. They were telling this, "I don't like this color, or can you change the font or can you try these creative ideas?"

They will have their own creative ideas. When I started using these techniques I would ask them, what does the end user would feel like? Let's say they're a target persona as someone and I would name them, like let's say someone is Paul, they're a direct client, and what would the client would feel like? Is it easily accessible to Paul? I think this was a big shift in mind. Another strategy which I tried was to I would detach myself from my work.

Let's say when I'm finished the design, I would try to not be emotionally attached to it, so it would be just out there. I would let a client give their feedback and I would take it as they say it. I would find if there are some valuable insights there, which I can improve upon. This is probably my experience when taking criticism.

Chris:

Thank you very much for sharing, Anki. Eric, your thoughts before we wrap up?

Eric:

No, that was good. If you've enjoyed today's conversation, whether you like the teaching theory, the critiquing theory for professionals, or us just critiquing social media posts, let us know. Message both of us and we'll be sure to do this again and we'll give you more of what you want. With that, bye, everybody.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode us from every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. Thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.

If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me? Head over to thefutur.com/heychris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it visit thefutur.com.

You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.

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