Life in lockdown has affected working practices in many ways. As the DesignOps team at the Home Office, we provide tools, resources and training to content and interaction designers. Right now, this means we’re busy trying to keep regular design community activities going as much as we can.
This includes our design critiques (or ‘crits’), which we run every 2 months to give our designers an opportunity to show their work in progress and get constructive feedback.
Our crits are based on the great work of our colleagues at GDS. But for our most recent session, we couldn’t just take our standard face-to-face format and easily apply it to an online session. Getting things prepared for the remote crit took some time to do.
Preparing for the crit
We started by reworking our previous crit slide deck, taking out parts which no longer made sense for an online session. We also took useful tips from a managing remote training workshops presentation by GDS training lead Clara Greo.
This included doing a practice run of the whole crit, where we discovered that adding facilitator prompts in the sessions could help to guide us.
We also looked at:
- sending out an agenda in advance by email
- creating a private Slack group for communication on the day
- using Trello and checklists - to ensure we covered everything
- different video conferencing tools – we used Skype, but had a back-up tool in case of technical problems
- shortening each crit session from 45 minutes to half an hour
- adding breaks
- sending out materials and information to the designers beforehand, to save time in the session
- how we facilitated the crit (including who ran the session), managed collaboration in the room and timekeeping on the day
The day – what worked and what didn’t
On the day of the crit, we asked everyone to dial in 5 minutes beforehand to make sure Skype worked.
First, we covered the foundations of what makes a good crit but we found many of the designers were already familiar with the basics. We could have condensed this part or shared slides in advance and gone straight into the crit sessions.
We then ran several crit sessions with plenty of breaks in between to help prevent video fatigue. However, we found these breaks to be too short to allow time for informal chats.
The crit sessions went really well. We had 2 video ’rooms’, which were split across 8 designers and 3 facilitators. Many found sharing work across projects interesting. We used a feature for ‘raising your hand’ to prevent people talking over each other.
For the last crit, due to an uneven number of presenters, we decided to join the rooms together. We quickly found this didn’t work well as the bigger session affected the bandwidth and the presenters’ ability to share their work properly.
Reflecting on the crit
At the end of the crit we held a retro using a Trello board. Everyone spent 10 minutes, in silence, writing feedback and then we discussed it together. There was a clear theme that sharing work and getting a fresh pair of eyes was helpful. Designers also said that the crit provided a much-needed space to chat and make connections.
Next time, we’ll follow a similar format but:
- allow for more frequent and longer breaks, to include informal chat time
- choose one form of communication - using Slack, email and live video chat all at once felt overwhelming
- give more time warnings throughout crit sessions
- ask designers to share their crit content in advance to enable people to digest it in their own time, so ‘online’ time is spent discussing
- share a clear schedule and just one video link to join ahead of the session
What we’re doing next
Overall, our first remote crit ran smoothly and was valuable for our designers.
As a central design team, we realised that while working remotely, there’s even more of a need for designers to have informal chats and to share what challenges they’re facing. Inspired by this, we’re now facilitating ‘design pairings’ - connecting designers to chat and discuss design problems informally.
If you’d like to get involved, either in a design crit or a pairing, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org