Questions to Ask Yourself When Reading About Design

July 13th 2016

Other forms of culture benefit enormously from critical thinkers who stand clearly outside of the profession, who don’t “ship” work—whether it’s art, theater, film, music, architecture, or even technology.

This is a solid list from Khoi Vinh, and I do agree with his premise that design critics as non-practitioners either don't exist, or are exceedingly rare (as it relates to designing digital products).

Among his list of questions one might ask when reading about design, this section about how it's said felt particularly relevant:

  • Does the writer use exclamatory or hyperbolic language in making his or her assertions?
  • Does the writer make unsupportable leaps of logic, e.g., equating correlation with causation, or inferring generalities from specifics?
  • Does the writer use language that is unfairly dismissive or disrespectful of the people who created the design?
  • Does the writer use simple, understandable language?
  • Does the writer use excessive jargon or technical terminology?
  • Does the writer offer opposing points of view and does he or she treat them fairly?

These questions resonate with me. It's easy to criticize and dissect and point out the flaws in a design. It's much more difficult – and valuable – to be understandable, respectful, constructive, and positive.

I don't believe that good critique can be born of bad intentions, and right now there are some bad actors with bad intentions writing about design in our community that bring us all down.

Good criticism is not black and white, it’s unflinching in its grayness. It’s not quantitative but qualitative. Its purpose is not to answer questions but to raise them.

And very, very difficult to get right, both as a giver and receiver. But as long as we're all working on it together I'll remain optimistic.

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