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Little and often: making critique a daily practice

Team critiques are a known best practice for content designers. But we struggled with precisely how to implement them at the Canadian Digital Service (CDS). For a long time we had a daily optional time slot in our calendars that anyone could use any time. But since anybody’s job is nobody’s job, we almost never actually had critique. So late last fall we made a new plan, which we started in January.

Here’s what we do now, and what we learned.

Little and often

We have a daily, 15-minute meeting every morning before we start our separate project work. Five content designers are on the regular rotation to present work. Someone new presents each day, and most people present work every week. If a presenter is off on their assigned day, they offer the space to someone else.

My favourite part

As a manager of people, my favourite part is how much more I get to see of people’s work and their thought processes. Even when they’re not presenting their own work, I learn a lot from the feedback they give. There’s also a special joy and pain from having people on your team ask the hard questions you usually ask other people.

“A lot of the things I learn are about how to approach a problem[,] to take a risk-based approach and ask myself ‘would this piece of content prevent users from continuing to read?’”
– Feedback from a CDS Content Designer on the critiques

Value for participants

I can tell that the participants also value critique because:

  • They often show up early in the hangout. That tells me they don’t want to miss a minute.
  • They aren’t shy about bringing very early, rough work. That tells me they feel safe to be vulnerable.
  • I’ve heard people say it’s their favourite part of the day.

“I’ve learned how to more readily consider multiple options and ideas before deciding on the first one that seems to fit the problem at hand.”
– Feedback from a CDS Content Designer on the critiques

Happy surprises

This short meeting every day has brought some happy surprises too:

  • We start every day with the friendly faces of our fellow content designers, which is especially important when working remotely.
  • The short time slot means we don’t have to interrupt people to stay on time.
  • It rewards presenters who give the minimum context needed to maximize the feedback they get.
  • We see work at lots of different stages. Sometimes it’s a sketch of user flows or architecture, other times a first draft of page content or screen mock-ups. Sometimes it’s just a conversation about how to approach a difficult conversation with a stakeholder.

“I’ve learned a lot about the COVID Alert app, the uses for Figma, and how to frame critiques by being curious.”
– Feedback from a CDS Content Designer on the critiques

One of the happiest surprises of our critiques: we’re all learning more about each other’s products. As we see content for a product evolve week over week, or as new content work is presented for the same product, we each build domain knowledge in other products. That makes it easier to switch content designers on product teams or cover absences. And, as time goes on, presenters need to provide less and less context because we’ve built so much domain knowledge in that product.

All in all, I am so delighted with our critique practice. If you and your team are needing a quick and effective way to improve your skills, I highly recommend a daily dose of content critique!

Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to learn more.