Since the start of June this year, Tidepool’s design team has been hosting a weekly design critique meeting which is open to anyone who is engaged in the practice of design and user experience at Tidepool. The aim is to do things in a new way and bring in new voices to solve problems. It results in better, richer user experiences and better designs.
We see about four to eight interns, contractors, and full-time team members from product design, product management and marketing participate, and we’d love to see that number grow!
Why were these workshops started?
Matt, Product Designer: One of our product designers, Kelly Watson, suggested starting the meetings to speed the pace of iteration and to offer more visibility into works-in-progress. We discussed format and goals and then I reached out to our design consultant Joey Banks to learn how the practice had been helpful at Figma where he works as a Product Designer. There are lots of benefits to these critiques (crits), but our primary goals were to:
- Build the habit of getting feedback on work-in-progress from a community of design practitioners.
- Provide an opportunity to practice talking about design. The vocabulary of design can help you see things once you know how to describe them.
- Build the habit of vulnerability of sharing and asking for help over powering through solo.
What happens at the meetings?
Maya, Product Design Intern: The day before a design crit, Matt reaches out to the group to see if anyone wants to share something they’re working on. The casual sign-up matches the purposeful informality of the whole meeting. It’s meant to be a place to share unfinished work without judgment for feedback, which can be hard in any creative space.
During the actual session, which takes place via Zoom as our team is distributed, each designer will present their work and define where they’re looking for feedback. Is it on the visual layout? A specific button interaction? A cleaner way to present a lot of text? Once the criteria for feedback are clear, we’ll take five to seven minutes to comment on the design using digital post-its, similar to what you might do in a physical space. We make time for a bit of discussion on some of the comments, but more so the designer gets to walk away with new perspectives on their work. The process is fairly rapid.
Just as the designer is allowing themselves to be vulnerable in sharing their work, the other participants are vulnerable in sharing quick suggestions without too much time to jot down the “perfect” or “smartest” comment.
Why do designers value these meetings?
Brooke, Product Design Apprentice: These meetings provide a space to collaborate with other team members and get real-time feedback. Design doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and these meetings are just one way to cultivate collaboration and knowledge sharing on projects. The more people look at a problem, the better!
Joey, Product Design Consultant: I’ve always valued the chance for a no-pressure avenue to share work and to collect thoughts from others on my team, long before the work has shipped, where it may then be too late to make changes or to correct any mistakes. Designers in the physical or virtual room, including myself, are able to grow from both the feedback given as well as in the ways that they solicit feedback from others. Asking for feedback is a skill in itself. Too broad of an ask, and the feedback won’t be focused enough. Too specific, and the larger picture and objective may be lost.
What do you learn from these meetings?
Jierui, Product Management Apprentice: I have better visibility on what designers at Tidepool are working on and what everyone's perspective is on the product. I think everyone comes to a crit with a different background and set of contexts so it's interesting to see it all come out in comments, feedback, and suggestions.
Maya: I think it’s important to be able to think critically about someone else’s work and communicate that in a way that’s clear to other designers. You can learn a lot from listening to how more experienced Tidepooler’s assess someone else’s work and the important details and nuances they latch onto.
What do you take away from these meetings?
Matt: We keep the mood light and I really love the informal chats and bits of my team’s personality that come out in the first five minutes or so while people are arriving.
The sense of being a part of a community of people like me, trying to understand hard problems and create new solutions is a huge value to me.
Maya: For technology designers, there’s always a large number of constraints to consider, a big one being the actual workload for developers to bring your work to life. Design crit is a great space for the team to have a minute to let themselves go a little wild and think aspirationally about how we’d want something to look or function.
Joey: Asking for feedback can be really, really tough. If the feedback from others on the team isn’t specific enough, the suggestions can quickly become overwhelming and well, not as helpful. The practice of having regularly-scheduled critiques has taught me a lot about the ways in which I communicate with others, as well as with how I ask for the feedback I’m looking for. The practice has taught me which areas of design I tend to need the most help or support with and has helped me really focus in on how I ask for feedback, ensuring to keep it specific and focused.
What made you want to participate?
Jierui: I enjoy the chance to learn more about other designers’ processes and what they are thinking through as they are ideating and prototyping. It's exciting to see designs evolve over the course of crits and become actual features in the app.
Brooke: I highly value feedback from my peers, and sharing works-in-progress is a great way to see a design problem from lots of different angles. We’re all there to learn from each other and iterate to make the solution the best it can be for our users. I believe these critiques have helped the team grow, both as a group and as individuals.
If you’d like to explore more about design philosophy and user experience, check out our user experience blog posts. Or to learn more about our internship program, read about Courtenay’s summer internship with Tidepool.