“Yes, and” generates while “no, but” stifles. This is a fundamental principle of improv and of design thinking here at the d.school. But it raises a question: Does critique have a role in design thinking?
I say, “yes … and.”
In my time as a fellow, I’ve learned critique has a unique and valuable role in design-thinking work. But sometimes -- especially when negatively delivered -- it can be hard to accept and process. To that end, I have put together some processes of my own to make seeking, accepting and processing critique a bit easier.
First, it’s important to show your work to people even when you are relatively sure that they don’t know anything about the topic around which you are working. It’s also valuable -- even before you’re ready -- to practice your presentations in front of these people, and test your ideas out on them.
Then, when you’re done, accept their feedback no matter how it is given. It may help to prime both the person you are receiving the feedback from and yourself for this part of the process. You can do this by reviewing “yes and” with them before you begin. It can also be helpful to frame their feedback as a gift, thanking them for it before they begin. Both of these methods help to start the feedback process with an eye towards being generative and thankful.
We regularly go through this process as a fellows cohort. Each of us practice presentations, pitches and designs with one another, and then we give and get feedback from everyone in the group. Doing this has helped me discover that feedback has multiple layers, and that it’s important to get beyond the surface level of “I liked it, nice work”. Equally important is going beyond any initial defensiveness on the part of the presenter. Both layers must be drilled through in order to get to deep insights. Here’s a tool I have used to achieve this:
Give everyone a pad of Post-it notes and ask them to answer just three questions:
What stood out? What surprised you? What didn’t you get?
The next step is up to you, the one receiving feedback. I like to set aside time to take a hard look at the feedback I’ve received. How does it map to your communication goal, and what did you communicate that you may not have intended? Did different things stand out for different listeners? Did the point you intended come through? Was there an even more profound point that you did not realize you communicated?
As for surprise, this is the key to making your design or presentation memorable. A presentation without a surprise fails to be memorable. And, if you confused people or they did not make a connection, you’ve got the clear message to simplify and tighten things up.
You may find that, in your work, with a little bit of discipline and focus, receiving critique just might be the best part of the process.