Critique is not criticism

A very simple blog post today.

Critique is an important part of any design process. This is something I’ve been thinking about this week:

Critique doesn’t mean you need to criticise something. It’s a shame the words are so similar.

Here’s the difference.

Critique is a stress test.

Good design becomes stronger with critique. It’s anti-fragile. If it’s good it will break without becoming broken.

Breaking something just gives you a new set of pieces to work with–a new set of building blocks. But, with the right approach to critique, this doesn’t mean that breaking something apart means it remains broken in any permanent way.

In this way, good design gets stronger when you question it, or when it’s applied to new contexts or scenarios.

This is why some designs become regarded as ‘timeless’. They get better the longer they exist and the more everything else changes around them. They become stronger under the pressure of constant changes in culture, society and potentially their context of use.

Making things that are simple or adaptable is key.

Criticism is an expression of disapproval.

It’s a stress inducer rather than a stress test. It can cause fragility because we only focus on the faults and not the potential of something. Criticism is more about trying to break people, rather than trying to break our designs.

A learning culture

The problem with criticism is it labels failure as a mistake rather than learning.

Critique is the opposite. Everything is learning.

We learn because we’ve made something we can learn from. We only fail so we can make the next thing, and then make it better.

Any situation where we put our work in front of others makes us vulnerable, but that’s how we learn.

Ben Holliday is an experienced designer, leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.