Optimism and critique

August 24, 2008

When I was at art school the critique was central to the ethos. Every couple of weeks I would have to pin my work up on the wall and defend it from the criticism of fellow students and professors. It was always stressful but as long as I hadn't made the mistake of staying up all the previous night trying to get the work finished I normally performed OK. The critique is a great way to give someone feedback that they can use to improve the work. People who were good at giving criticism did not let personal feelings get in the way of being honest and inevitably the sessions could become quite tough. It was not unknown for students to fall out with each other over a crit.

Today we are more interested in collaborative teams than we are in the individual. Design challenges are too complex for an individual to tackle alone. We have found out that for teams to work well together there needs to be an essentially optimistic environment. Back in May I talked at the Art Center College conference Serious Play about how designers use aspects of play in their work and one idea that I focused on was permission to take risks. I suggested that the reason many creative companies have playful environments is to encourage risk taking and to help create a culture of optimism.

The dilemma we face today is that in a culture of optimism good honest criticism seems to be dying out. Is it because we are nervous about upsetting each other?

Whatever the reason, I believe we need to find effective methods for criticism within todays optimistic, collaborative design culture. Does anyone have any examples of how this is already being done?