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Giving Critical Feedback: We Need More of It

In: Showing my WorkTips

A few days ago, this super interesting comment popped up in my Twitter feed:

It’s hard to build a community based on professional feedback in a field where good aesthetics are often praised more than good thinking.

– Edwin de Jongh, Designer News user

It took a little doing but I tracked it down to a comment on Designer News about what’s happened to the Dribble comments section. And the conversation (the commiserating) got me thinking, aren’t we as instructional designers, just as bad?

We Need Critique

Let me be the first to say that I’m guilty of it myself. Especially when you’re new to a community or that community has no reference for critique, it can be impossible or at least taboo to jump in and begin a serious (but respectful) critique. Critique requires a space where everyone involved feels safe enough to critique and be critiqued. Where people trust that their work and not their person will be critiqued (and not criticized or attacked). And, frankly, it also requires a community that values critique rather than just praise. And that’s the tough part in a community where “aesthetics are often praised more than good thinking.” There’s nothing wrong with praise. If you like something, you should take some time to express your appreciation. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from binge watching the Idea Channel for several weeks, it’s that we (I) need to begin thinking critically even (or perhaps especially) about the things that we(I) enjoy. Why did I like that interaction? What about that design was delightful? What was the thinking behind it that made it work? Or, conversely, if you don’t like a thing, think about why you didn’t like it. Your gut reaction isn’t enough.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you’ll know that I am a huge (HUGE) advocate of making things and putting them out there. Part of that process, especially if your part of a community of makers, should be receiving good critique on your design, the technical aspects and the design thinking behind it, so that you can get better. Critique is important because it helps the designer to better articulate their process and their thinking. For example, if I’m reviewing a short course made by someone in the elearning community and I critique (never attack) a click-and-reveal interaction as being and unnecessary hindrance to information and suggest, instead, that the designer use separate slides for each piece of information in order to facilitate better pacing, or finds some way to put that information outside the main screen real estate and suggest an interaction where participants can actively use the information, that gives the designer the opportunity to articulate why they choose the click-and-reveal interaction. Was it a client request? Did it just seem easier?  Whether or not the designer makes a change, the critique allows (forces) them to think through the decisions they made.

Our Communities Don’t Have It

So, we need to make things, and we need to critique them. I tend to do a lot of that myself, but I have been on the lookout for a community that would help, but… I’ve yet to find one. There are precious few maker communities in instructional design/L&D anyway, and the one’s that exist, while they nail being welcoming, completely fail on the critique aspect. Why? I think it goes back to what I wrote earlier. In the service of making people feel comfortable and safe sharing (which is a really important goal), no one has felt safe critiquing another person’s work. It seems taboo. Connect that with the fact that the most popular maker community is connected to a particular authoring tool business and you can well imagine that there isn’t much of an interest in pushing critique, which can make people feel uncomfortable.

How Do We Get It?

Maybe I’m only used to critique because of creative writing workshops in college. Do instructional design communities have these kinds of workshops? Maybe they should. What do you think? How can we encourage more critique in the ID maker communities?