Jody Nyboer, Ph.D. | Syracuse University
Many Methods, One Manual
Critique is broadly regarded as the core method of feedback and assessment across design disciplines. And traditionalized design education has largely normalized how critiques unfold in practice. A summative design critique is an interim review which includes the slow drip of instructor feedback throughout a course, but also eventful benchmark evaluations of developing ideas. Traditionally, summative critiques range from casual conversations to challenging discussions that can feel extreme. A formative design critique then marks the completion of a design phase, usually through presentations to a panel of experts composed of faculty and, often, industry professionals. Such events are intense and can evoke nerves analogous to a performance.
While the methods that have long characterized the critiquing culture of design have value, it is increasingly common to observe contemporary design instructors breaking free from traditional evaluation practices to embrace innovative and experimental approaches. These unorthodox approaches may enhance the depth, quality, and fluidity of design feedback in ways that cannot be achieved via traditional methods. It is also increasingly common for instructors from other domains to adopt design-inspired methods of feedback—a reminder that critiques are in no way proprietary to the design disciplines. As a detail- and process-rich form of evaluation and analysis, critiques have a vast range of transdisciplinary applications.
The vision of this book is to capture the diversity of such ideas and serve as a resource for educators. The contributors are instructors who have ambitiously conceptualized and deployed alternatives to engaging design discourse or have analyzed the effectiveness of these alternatives. As a manual, this book features both strategies themselves and associated scholarship.
As the first of its kind, this book is unique. It fills a distinct gap in critique-based resources and research available to design and project-based educators. As a practical resource, it presents ideas that can immediately be put into practice. The articles include strategy objectives, procedural guidance, theoretical basis (if relevant), and author discussions surrounding the value or observed outcomes of using each strategy. Each section is useful for determining how well an approach fits the needs of an instructor browsing for ideas. The book also includes a repository of scholarship, featured as a means to bridge practice and research, and to foster a deeper appreciation for the contributions of contemporary researchers who have produced focused studies concerning design critique and pedagogy.
When the call for contributions was initially issued for Effective Design Critiquing Strategies Across Disciplines, we could not predict the breadth of submissions. It was a delight to learn that so many educators were eager to share their strategies with others. The response was both substantial and diverse, ranging from ideas for gamifying critique to scientific analyses of critiquing methodologies. Both types were deemed instrumental in compiling a valuable and influential resource for educators. This book is thus structured to acknowledge each type and to reflect the heterogeneity of contributions.
The first part of the book features immersive critiquing activities that engage students and instructors alike. They include strategies that improve the frequency and quality of feedback, facilitate knowledge acquisition, foster inclusion and diversity among learners, and strengthen the community. Each strategy represents the unique experience and perspective of the authors while stimulating thinking about transdisciplinary relevance. These aspects of the collection illustrate the potential for applying studio methodologies of assessment to learning ecosystems outside of design. The strategies are divided among three topics, including strategies for online environments, strategies that engage active learning, and strategies that engage play.
The second part of the book includes anecdotal accounts of trying new things in unusual learning environments, as well as theory-based approaches and scientific investigations concerning design pedagogy. The collection of articles here only begins to capture the active range of scholarship that concerns design critique. The research presented includes studies that use learner experience data to substantiate the effectiveness of a method, aim to discern best practices, explore the impact of community involvement, and evaluate student reception to truly experimental approaches.
Project-based educators are the intended audience for this book. Instructional faculty or graduate students involved with teaching courses that deal with a process of working that is analogous to that of a designer can use this book as a resource for ideas. While there are several domains that fall under the umbrella of “design,” design thinking describes a process of working that is increasingly encouraged and implemented among collegiate programs in business and leadership, as well as in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This book should thus be of equal interest to emerging educators in non-design disciplines who are seeking creative ways to challenge and engage learners. Most of the strategies presented are also transferable to secondary teachers, including those who facilitate workshops and short courses offered by art and design centers or by summer arts programs. It is also of value to any field where creative output is reviewed, such as creative writing, dance, and other applied arts.
Now And Forward
The overarching goal of this book is to illuminate the creative possibilities of design critique, and to share approaches that practicing educators experience as effective, engaging, and worth sharing with their colleagues. In design, the traditional paradigm is well-known, as are its advantages and disadvantages. It is our hope that the book supplies instructors with exciting ideas and new knowledge that they can immediately apply to their own work as educators. We also hope that the contributing authors of this book successfully inspire our readers to be more experimental, take more risks, and find courage to break free of the traditions that bind design critique.
Looking forward, we envision this book to be the first of many expanded editions, building towards an expansive archive of critiquing ideas and related research that will be resourceful across disciplines for years to come.