Scaffolding Critique

During our education we have not been taught how to provide qualitative feedback, whether on our own or someone else’s work. One way to develop this is to use what is known as ‘critique’, which in our context is specific to what happens in studio based learning (design, fine art, music). Here you present work in progress, or smaller examples of work, and it is discussed in specific ways, publicly – with and in front of the class. The aim of this is to model (make visible) what it is to ‘think and be a designer/artist/musician’. In other words to help make explicit the things that someone who makes things or performs relies upon and uses in the moment of making, which you often aren’t aware of.

We can’t quite do that, but through a careful critique of small scale works we can begin to make plain the ideas and experiences that others will bring when thinking about your work, and this can help you to make more present to yourself the sorts of things you should be thinking about was you make something.

To structure this we rely on a very straightforward framework, appropriated from Edward de Bono. (I’ve seen this used in lots of different contexts though often the colours get dropped and they get called other things. I assume because when a consultant is being paid $2000 a day they don’t want to ask a team of manangers to ‘use the red hat’.) But we’re not shy of hiding where things come from, so coloured hats they are.

We are defining them as:

RED: an emotional response, your immediate reaction. Like? Excited? Cold? Here you want a good strong immediate adjective. Red is an intuitive response it is to help you to learn to a) recognise how you feel when viewing something, b) that this feeling matters as it c) an effect of the work and d) often can help you understand it. You do not justify red, you just offer the adjective

BLACK: problems, what do you think is wrong or needs changing in the work? This is often easiest to do, probably because we have had a lot of experience of being told what needs to be changed to make something better, or simply what is wrong with what we’ve done. With black you do not need to offer solutions (do x to fix y), it is just to state what you think is wrong. Being able to identify problems and weaknesses (of any sort) is pretty foundational if you want to be able to teach yourself how to do things better.

YELLOW: what do you like about the work? What is good about it? A nice way I think to use this one here is to think about what you’ve seen that you’d like to try in your own work, where what you describe using yellow is also thinking about something you could do or use too. Whether an idea, a technique, a composition…

GREEN: A tricky one, this is not about judging the work in any way but simply a suggestion about how it could have been done differently, offering variations around what has been done. It is not to offer something completely different, but is very much based on what is, and a small alternative to what has been done. Remember, this is not even something that might make it better, but is very much the sketch idea – what if you did again but this time tried…?