Toward a culture of critique

by New Idiom


“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet
enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to
our judgment.”

- Anton Ego, Ratatouille


Some people are natural born critics. A specific person may come to mind. Maybe it’s a classmate. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s John Grimes.

Receiving critique from these people can be difficult, painful even. Actually, receiving critique from anybody can be painful. Listening to someone critique
your work can feel like they are challenging your right to exist as a competent human being.

We’ve all been guilty, at some point, of saying something is crap without reason. This type of critique suggests two things. First, it suggests you must be amazingly bright and instantly understand the intent and constraints of the thing you are talking about (which may be true). Second, it suggests you don’t care enough
to explain yourself, and instead of giving feedback to help others learn and improve, you give feedback because you like hearing the sound of your own voice (which also may be true). Don’t do it.

There are two kinds of constructive feedback, and there simply isn’t enough of either at the Institute of Design; those that deal with concepts and those which deal with execution. In his Decision Making class, Jeremy Alexis might refer to these types of critique as “strategic” and “tactical”.

We must foster a community where giving and receiving straightforward feedback and critique to each other is the norm, rather than the exception it seems to be. The challenges associated with teamwork have gotten much recent attention. We must grow that attention to also focus on giving feedback to each other and also to
seeking it out.

If asked, you expect your peers to tell you honestly how they feel about something. It’s up to you, once they’ve said their piece, to take it or leave it. Yes, counting on peers to be straightforward and honest is a risk. But imagine a world where you
had people you could rely on when the path forward is confusing, or when you have finished a portion of work and are unsure if it is good/right/compelling/etc.

Be careful, for critique isn’t about bashing new ideas. It’s about helping craft young ones. And, “it’s good” certainly doesn’t cut it.