Games, Design & Game Design

Pre-Final-Final Critique

In Commentary, Design Process, My Thoughts On, Self-Reflection, Thesis Work on May 6, 2011 at 11:07 am

Yesterday I had my Critique Week critique. Crit week, as we call it, is a pretty interesting feature of how SAIC works. Basically, the second-to-last week of each semester is given over to individual 45-minute critiques of each graduate students work by a panel of faculty and visiting artists. Classes are suspended and each student is assigned a day and time to present their work. In the fall you present to a panel of faculty drawn from the department you practice in, and in the spring it’s an interdepartmental panel. Mine, as it turned out, was moderated by a Printing faculty member, and included Film/Video/New Media, Painting, Sculpture and one Architecture instructor (who I had had in the fall for our CTA group studio project).

It went surprisingly well! The fear with these things is not just that it could go poorly, as in the panel doesn’t like or understand the work (that’s not really a big deal), but that it won’t be helpful in furthering the work. I worked pretty hard to get two games to a fully prototyped stage (pics forthcoming), and it really helped, even though we didn’t get into deign details. Having physical things to evaluate makes it so much easier to communicate the idea, every time. The tone of the panel was generally positive and complimentary, with specific questions about how to make the work more effective in really communicating food issues, and some solid suggestions for next steps to take. So it went well, and it was helpful – first time!

Some takeaway points about these critiques (gleaned from my experience and talking to my classmates):

  • Something is better than nothing. Having a prototype or model, even if it’s rough, will provoke more useful discussion than sketches and words, especially in these interdisciplinary panels.
  • They want to help. It’s easy to think of critiques as adversarial, but the faculty seem to genuinely look forward to critique week, and they are interested in what you are doing. Take advantage of their expertise.
  • Don’t talk too much. The panel only sees what you show them and knows what you tell them. They don’t need to know, and probably don’t want to know, the tortured journey from first idea to final product.
  • Take notes. I set up my flip to record the panel (haven’t watched it yet!) and took notes during. Some people get a friend to take notes for them. In any case, you won’t remember everything, get some kind of permanent record.
  • Have specific questions. When the general discussion dies down, it helps to have a list of a couple specific things you want to get out of it, like “do you have any suggestions for how to effectively showcase this feature in the exhibition” or “what kind of packaging would you expect this to come in.” Anything, really, that can guide the conversation towards usefulness and avoid awkward “we’re out of things to talk about” silence.
I have more thoughts on critique week in general, after the jump.

I don’t know how it works for the more traditional arts, but the timing of Crit Week has always struck me as odd for how designers work. Generally, the final presentation of the work in class is the week directly following the crit panel, so there’s just not enough time to implement changes and suggestions! If the basic idea is ill-conceived, you are well past the point of no return in changing it. I guess you’re supposed to take the feedback in terms of furthering your practice in the long-term, and it does provide points for reflection, but when you’ve just spent a week hammering out a prototype, it’s not like you’re going to completely overhaul it based on the panel’s feedback.

This time, though, it’s great because we have another month to finish the thesis work. I can actually take their feedback into consideration for finishing the work, which is why I think it was so helpful this time around.

Overall, by far the most useful of my four crit week panels, and a big confidence-booster for me coming into the final phase of the project.

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