The new and the success of critiques

Hi there.
It’s been a long while since I’ve written much of anything of length. Although I intended, at one point, to write my thoughts down in a journal/blog post on a frequent basis, time has a way of becoming packed and one day you wake up and realize you haven’t put words to pixels in far too long.

That all said, I wanted to touch on something that a good friend has been working on. In part, because he’s a good friend and deserves to be written about. In another part, because I’d like you to try out what he’s been building.

Before we get into the new, let’s touch upon the notion of critique. A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, deviantART built and launched a feature called, quite simply, “Critique,” which was a toolset designed to encourage and enable thoughtful critique. I was a small part of the team that put it together, and our intention was to help elevate the community of deviantART into a more thoughtful and helpful one. Certainly it always was, in many ways, a helpful community. Why, just look at the evolution of artists on this site and you’ll see a history of growth that few other sites can boast.

That said, in-depth critique was never commonplace on deviantART, and we aimed to change it. So, we built this critiquing system that was, in my view at the time, pretty good: it allowed users to rate certain aspects of work via a simple star system, and required a minimum word count to ensure that people didn’t get comments as mindless as “cool” or “this sucks.”

Initially, it was working well. People were excited about the new feature, and critiques were happening left and right. We on staff made it a point to write as many critiques as possible, to help show off the feature and encourage further use amongst the community. But, if you look at the landscape of deviantART on the whole, the Critique feature has failed. It’s still not a bad tool, but it never had the impact we wanted it to have, and I think I know why:

  1. On the whole, the deviantART community is not mostly professionals with experienced feedback to give.

  2. It was castrated at launch by being bundled in with Premium Memberships.

  3. The community had existed for a decade without this feature, and so its introduction did little to change existing behavioral paradigms.

  4. People were not required to write critiques, nor were they rewarded for doing so.

You see, the deviantART community is mostly populated by amateurs. These are people who may be talented in their own ways, but are not working professionals in their fields. Certainly there are professionals here, but very few by comparison to the total population. The critiques written by amateurs are far less valuable, plus amateurs are less motivated to write critiques (either out of lack of experience or a simple fear of standing on a soapbox and giving commentary). Then, by launching the feature as a part of Premium Memberships, the potential population using this feature was cut down to less than 1% of the whole of deviantART. Plus, because dA had an overall legacy of basic (shorter, anything goes) comments, people wondered why the critique feature was necessary, and because the system didn’t reward people for thoughtful critique, there was ultimately no reason for it to be used.

That brings me to the new

If you’re a designer (like me) and you like to give and receive thoughtful critiques (again, like me), then the new is built for you. Allow me to explain why.

When Damian Madray approached me some months ago with the idea of repositioning his old designerscouch community into a more professional, more useful tool for designers, of course I liked the idea. When he looked at the landscape of design communities, there were really only three noteworthy ones: dribbble, behance, and forrst. All three of these suffered from the same problem—they are nice for showing off completed work, but none of them encourage growth and betterment.

In short, there was no place for good design critique. Enter the new

The new is built to solve the matter of receiving and giving good critique on design, and it does so by addressing the very issues that caused deviantART’s critique feature to flounder:

  1. The system is currently invitation-only, meaning that the only people there are talented professionals who have been invited by other talented professionals.

  2. The critique functionality isn’t a special feature; it’s the whole purpose to the site, and always will be.

  3. Critiques are rewarded via a (non-monetary) points system that elevates the status of frequent critics. Other members can up-vote (like reddit) critiques that are good, further rewarding people for their thoughtful writings. Thus, the most important people on the site are not just the ones who make the best work, nor are they the ones who write the most, but are the ones who write the most valuable stuff.

But why are critiques important to designers?
All artists, and especially designers, benefit greatly from pointed, thoughtful critique. The entire profession of design is wrapped up in useful critique. This is why a good design team/agency/company isn’t built up of workhorses, but is instead a combination of people from different design backgrounds who can give and receive knowledgable, useful commentary about how to improve aspects of their designs (eg, this font should be larger for legibility, this icon isn’t as clear as it could be, this texture seems counterintuitive to the greater purpose of the design, this orange could be warmer, etc.). What’s more, a good critique increases the clarity, usefulness, and functionality of a design…and that’s the whole point of design, really—for it to serve its purpose well. The new helps that happen.

So let’s use the thing!
Right now, the new is entering private beta, where further modifications will be made to the system based upon user behavior and feedback. If you’re a designer, I encourage you to give it a look. I believe it will be very impactful and beneficial for the greater online design community, and I’m excited to see where it takes us. In a nutshell, the new Hunie will change the face of design communities online.

Let me know if you’d like an invitation.

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