“Students often come in thinking that the word ‘criticism’ means finding fault with something, looking for the weak spots, finding something harsh to say,” says Natalia Ilyin*. “But ‘criticism’ in design and in writing is not that; It’s trying to figure out what problem the writer or designer has set up and then deciding whether the designer or writer solved that problem. … Criticism that points out something that you may have missed or made a connection that you didn’t see—is of immense value.”
Personally, I like the concept of the game “Musical Chairs” in design. Where everyone moves and works on somebody’s design each day. Musicians get their songs remixed or performed by other artists, so why not get your design remixed? Someone else will find things that you didn’t see in there. It’s also refreshing to see that someone can give away a design without envy, ownership, or jealousy. For programmers, this is called “open source code.” Only then we can grow a robust and un-hackable application. At my pharma job that was very common. And at the last step, the “pre-press,” was the rule.

During a Parsons workshop about meaningful critiques, we were lucky to hear about CalArts’ Allison Yasukawa’s conversation starter cards. I made a set of them (each one is using a different classic typeface). Just like the words “calm down” has a 100% failure rate, the words “don’t be shy” do very little to start the conversation. These cards do start a conversation.
Allison gave us these instructions to talk about an artwork.

Things to do as a viewer if you don’t know what to say:

1. Describe the artwork’s formal qualities including the following: line, shape, form, space,
color, surface, balance, emphasis, movement, repetition, variety, unity, and/or pattern
2. Respond to the title, materials, and/or process by which the work was made.
3. If you know the artist, compare this work to their previous work.
4. Respond to another speaker’s comment(s).
5. Also for more information about something someone has said.
a. Could you say more about that?
b. What do you mean by…?

Reality TV and Casting Shows

Allison started the workshop with questions into the room:
— do you like reality TV?
— which show do you like, or hate
— do you know American Idol?
Very often they have some kind of competition.
What roles do the people take on as part of the shows?
Competitors, judges, hosts, audience.
American Idol example:

The judges are:

Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul was born in 1962 in California. A natural-born dancer, Abdul was selected as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers while in college. She continued her career as a dancer and choreographer and eventually worked with The Jackson 5 before becoming a pop star in her own right during the ’80s.
She is the descriptive judge, she mentions what she sees. Her sentences start like: ”I noticed that you…”
Paula is sometimes referred to as the show’s “den mother,” hovering over and protecting her cubs, particularly from the scary man next door, Simon Cowell.

Randi Jackson

Randall Darius Jackson is an American bassist, singer, record producer, entrepreneur, and television personality.
Playing with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Bob Dylan. He was even a temporary member of the 80s rock band Journey. Jackson also recorded and toured with such well-known artists as Jerry Garcia, Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna.
The interpretive judge, he talks compares things to ideas and concepts.
When Randy says something is “pitchy,” it means nothing except to those who have had some kind of musical training.

Simon Cowell

After each performance, his criticism tends to focus on the actual singing and song choice, but he’ll often acknowledge the role other factors play. This season, he told one contestant, “This came over as a bit of a joke. Having said that, I have a feeling the audience at home will like you.”
Simon Cowell basically says something like, “You really sucked just then, mate” while Paula tends to say, “Puppies kittens bunnies teddy bears not the best song choice for me but that’s okay, sweetie, sunshine happiness flowers.”
The insufferable studio audience nearly always erupts into applause after Paula says something inconsequential, and then obnoxiously boos Simon for being honest. He never softens his responses the way Paula does, and they hate him for it.
Allison then asked us to split into 3 groups to each design a costume representing one of the 3 judges, using some very basic material such as newspapers and tape. Additionally, we could make one item to hold, that represents the character archetype.
Each group then displayed the costume.
The hand-held items were kept and used for future critiques. They act as representational totems to speak from the archetype’s point of view.

* Natalia Ilyin’ second book: “Writing for the Design Mind.”