Who should critique your work: Why designer critique matters

An answer to a question on LinkedIn: Are other designers really the best critics of your work? The continuance of the discussion might be worth reading.

You ideally should have designer, art director, target audience and client feedback.

Client feedback is important because they hopefully understand their target audience and functional requirements better than the designer. Ultimately the client needs to be happy with signing the paycheck so their acceptance is important to the politics of the process. Though I keep reminding clients that they should try judge work from the perspective of their audience.

Target audience feedback is great when you get it. Clients are often open to some form of testing - and if you keep it lightweight it can be quite cheap. The thing is that target audience are often limited in the insights that they can give. They usually cannot see past an incremental improvement so take what they say with a grain of salt. Make proposals to users, don't ask them what they want because they can't tell you their latent needs. Cool design hits latent needs.

Art directors are great for judging the feel of a piece. Though in my small country often art director and designer are the same person.

Other designer feedback is critical. It's nearly impossible to critique your own work (though I'm actively researching techniques to make self-critique more effective). The arty side of designers might be fickle but the underlying design aesthetic is not as subjective as people think. There are underlying aesthetic principles that are quite universal and some that are culturally situated. Good designers can critique work because they are trained and have developed connoisseurship. They are not just somebody who thinks that just because "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" that somehow qualifies them as having a useful opinion just because they feel "creative". Also, the graphic design eye is very different to that of other types of visual creative.

Much of the formalist side of critique will encourage adherence to grids and greater coherency between things on the page in order to increase unity. If a piece is too unified/simplistic then the critique will recommend a "breaking of the rules" to create interest. That's the basis of most visual critiques (yes, I am researching this). E.g. On a website with many colours and type treaments, obvious critique is to choose a colour scheme and to systematise the type treatments because that increases unity. Counter e.g. On a website that is black and white, a critique might suggest to add a highlight colour in order to create interest.

To bring it back to the question: Designers are one of the important critiquers of your work but don't forget the others. I don't think there is currently a better way of measuring work where aesthetics is involved - though there are established tests for measuring function.

On a cautionary note: The whole "Design Science" movement tried and failed to objectify aesthetics in the 1960s. They thought that science could start to properly measure aesthetics - luckily we are over that though I do think that the post-modern reaction to design science swung the pundulum too far past humanism into outright mysticism where it concerns creativity. Contemporary techniques like fMRI are given interesting insight into how the brain interprets aesthetics - but fMRI is simply out of reach of most designers.

Holdem Manager and Comodo Firewall

I was getting a really bad crash in Holdem Manager (HEM) where the program would startup then crash with a BadImageFormat error. After some digging around it appeared to be a problem with the later versions of HEM and the Comodo Firewall software I was using. The fix is easy: either uninstall Comodo Firewall or add HEM to the list of trusted applications in Comodo.


Poker at Christchurch Casino

I played poker for a few hours at Christchurch casino on Saturday night. I must say that I enjoyed the experience so much more than playing in Hamilton or Auckland. With Auckland Skycity about to close their poker room, I may have to fly down to Christchurch to play.

The dealers are a bit slower and make more mistakes than Hamilton or Auckland, but the players are always watching out so mistakes are always rectified. The slower dealing means that there's less mis-deals than I've experienced elsewhere.

The players are more chatty and like to talk more about anything and everything. There are not silent poker robots that only talk after a big confrontation. This helps in passing the time so you don't get impatient and let the action junkie reflex take over.

There is no roped off area and the poker tables are close to the bars. This means that chatty drunks like to wander past and you can often convince them to lay a few bob on the table.

The play is looser. There are some loose aggro-players who know what they are doing, but there are many many loose passive players. Way softer play than online. There are players making big mistakes - like chasing gutshots without odds or flat-calling with the nuts when last to act on the river. Just some people out for a bit of a gamble. Far more calling stations so when you hit a monster you can often get your whole stack in the middle - unless you've been a total rock all night.

The blinds are $1/$2 and the min-buyin is $75 dollars and the max-buyin is $200. That's a 35BB-100BB stack so you get to play real poker. This is better than the 25BB-75BB stack sizes at Skycity Auckland and the $2/$5 crapshot game of 20BB-40BB that Skycity Hamilton lays.

The rake is 10% but it appears they cap that at $10 per pot so it's much better than the $15 cap used at Hamilton and Auckland casinoes.

Yes, I think I'll be flying to down to Christchurch to play when I want live cash play. Skycity say that Queenstown casino will become their premier destination for NZ poker once Auckland closes. The problem I have with that is when I enquired about playing in Queenstown on last Friday night, they doubted that a game would get enough players to run. Ouch.


Design Thinking is more than just creative thinking.

I read a Donald Norman article titled "Design Thinking: A Useful Myth" which discusses the use of design thinking in management circles. While I generally agree that the term Design Thinking has become watered down to almost uselessness, I did disagree with some parts of the article.

The myth? That designers possess some mystical, creative thought process that places them above all others in their skills at creative, groundbreaking thought. This myth is nonsense...
The phrasing "above all others" is a strawman - it is obvious that this cannot be true. Creatives in general do have attributes that will, on average, have them produce more creative results than somebody who is not a creative. One way of looking at this is by using Bloom's Taxonomy. Creative people just spend more time at the higher levels of Bloom's, so are just more experienced in those modes of thought.

...we have had breakthrough ideas and creative thinking throughout recorded history, long before designers entered the scene. When we examine the process in detail, what is being labeled as "design thinking" is what creative people in all disciplines have always done.
The big difference in design thinking versus other creative modes of thought is the design process. The exploration of a solution space that following a systematic approach to design allows is going to be more thorough and produce higher quality results than a creative stab. It is the iteration of cycles of Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation that make the process more than traditional creative thinking. There's a good book on the topic: "How Designers Think: The Design Process Demystified" by Bryan Lawson.

Traditional creative thinking values originality whereas design thinking favours appropriateness. The originality versus appropriateness thing is a bit more yin-yang in its relationship than polar binary opposites but the focus of design thinking is very much in appropriateness.

Yes, I have a search theory model for how design thinking works -design thinking, as encapsulated by the design process, that is basically a human form of a genetic algorithm.


Solano Slider

So I've been playing with the Solano slider v0.8 jQuery plugin for a friend's website. Her website uses many (around ten) image sliders that are CSSed exactly the same. I wanted to create something that is as easy as possible to update and that keeps the HTML code very clean. There were a few gotchas.

Solano slider can automagically setup numbered navigation for you if you supply a #div. Well everything in that <div> will be floated so you must set a height in CSS or it won't show any navigation. The slider navigation must also be a <div> because Solano creates each navigation item as a floated <p> element.

Solano slider will also float each of the images contained within the slider so you also must set a height on the container <div> in CSS or it won't show any images.

When using jQuery1.4.3 there was a problem with the positioning of images and my left-floated site navigation. This was fixed by simply upgrading to jQuery1.4.4.

I use multiple image sliders in a single page and found the way that Solano handles classes added to navigation items and the currently selected item to be a pain in the butt. What it does is each slider gets a separate class (.solanoNav1, .solanoNav2, .currentNav1, .currentNav2 etc.) It did not add a generic navigation or selection class that could be used to style everything globally.

To ease updating of the website later (i.e. adding more sliders) I run the slider creation in a loop that runs over an array containing a list of slider #id. I did want to use a jQuery .each() e.g. $('.slider').each(...) to automate this without an array list but jQuery apparently doesn't allow .each() to be nested and Solano uses an .each() internally to build the slider. Still, adding a single entry to an array list is not too onerous an overhead for each new slider. The code is:

var sliders = Array('sprodesignad','strevormorris','smasterhouse',

for (slider in sliders) {
  var sthis = $('#' + sliders[slider]);
  var navid = sliders[slider] + 'nav';
  sthis.after('<div id="' + navid + '" class="slidernav"></div>');
    autoNav: true,
    navID: ('#' + navid)
  $('#' + navid).children().addClass('solanoNav');
  $('body').append('<style type="text/css">.currentNav'
    + slider + ' { color: #ccc; }</style>');

First we get a jQuery reference to the slider and setup a standard name for the navigation <div>. Next we add a .slider class to every slider to make hooking CSS easier and to further reduce the burden on the HTML coder when the site is updated later. Next we automatically add an empty div for the slider navigation using the name created before. The next call creates the solano slider - using the autoNav option and supplying the navigation <div> #id we created before. The next two lines are hacks to make dealing with all sliders globally easier. We add a standard class to each of the navigation items to make styling them easier. Finally we kludge in a <style> element containing a rule for the .currentNavX (.currentNav1, .currentNav2 etc.) This ends up polluting the DOM with a bunch of <style> elements and violates general practice of not specifying CSS style info in the HTML file but could not be avoided without hacking Solano slider itself.

Maybe I should just hack Solano? Would the author mind? Can I also just mention just how much I love jQuery!