Have to do a critique, not sure how to handle it?

Criticism vs. Critique

After four years of daily critique during my undergrad I know how beneficial the process can be for opening up different perspectives and ways of thinking.  I prefer the term critique to criticism (or constructive criticism) as I see these two things as very different activities. It’s not easy to critique without criticizing, anyone can slip up on this but when operating within a learning community it’s well worth the effort. I found a great blog post (linked below) in which the author gives some insight:


“We often throw out criticism (mistaking it for critique) of someone’s work and when the person gets upset, we then scoff at them for having “thin skin.” We do not consider for a second that their reaction was to our destructive handling of their work.”


Responding to critique is difficult because it’s easy to become defensive or respond in haste rather than to accept potentially valuable feedback. It’s also helpful to know that defending oneself against criticism is sometimes necessary. Interestingly, being too conservative in the process of providing critique can lead to “sitting on” ideas, or failing to give worthwhile feedback at all. I’ve been guilty of making all of these mistakes. I believe the secret lies in trying to remain kind and open to diverse ways of thinking, and also in aiming to add value whenever possible.


It’s also helpful to remember the differences that distinguish the two activities (at least in the design community) and how easy it is for anyone to cross over without meaning to. With this in mind, I’ve developed the following table adapted from the link below with a few additions discovered through my own critiquing experiences :


Where Criticism…


Finds fault Looks at structure
Looks for what’s lacking Finds what’s working too
Offers no insight or contribution Aims to add value when possible
Ignores important factors and contexts Builds on important factors and contexts
Condemns what is not understood Asks for clarification
Is spoken without thought Voice is kind, honest, and objective
Is negative Is positive (even about what isn’t working)
Is vague & general Is concrete & specific
Is about knowledge-as-dominance Is about possibility
Has no sense of humor Insists on laughter, too
Is behaviorist, believes in a higher ‘truth’ Acknowledges multiple truths
Looks for flaws in the speaker/speaking Addresses only what is presented
Is unfocused or focused on the wrong things Is focused, relevant, and applicable
Should be learned from Should be learned from

*Adapted from this article by Balogun


It should be noted that in many circles there is no distinction made between critique and criticism, but rather criticism is typified into different purposes of critique/criticism. It is a useful to make this division however as a comparative tool for better understanding of how to be positive, helpful and constructive. The way one selects his or her language can make the difference between something inadvertently coming across as criticism.


Useful critique language might begin with phrases such as:


This is looking good…

  • have you considered… (used to broach a vantage point, option or alternative that is left out)
  • it might be interesting if you… (used to offer suggestions to push a design further or in a different direction)
  • were there any other alternatives when… (used to explore potential alternatives)
  • can you explain your thinking behind… (useful to kick off the metacognitive self-evaluation cycle)
  • I’m curious why… (useful to understand the logic used if other valuable approaches were eliminated)


Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jleveque/3193118489/

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply