The art of critiquing

I am a firm believer of the point that designers (and just about anyone in the creative field) needs to be a good critic. They need to critique not only the innumerable work of others but also of oneself.  I also insist upon the value of critique and the art of critiquing a lot in my design workshops too.  In this respect I would like to share this semantic differential diagram that I had come across during my masters studies.

There are two key things that the designer has to consider, when looking into doing a critique of things. 1. Audience and 2. Content.

1. Audience The first important thing is the audience. For any critique exercise to take place, understanding the audience is vert important. Once one has an understanding of the audience, they can look to deciding the language and the tone for the critique. In my opinion the language should be kept simple and in easy to understand terms. One can adopt a particular tone depending on the audience. Whether to make it filled with case studies (if the audience is an academic audience) or to make it filled with stories / anecdotes if the audience is more laypersons.

2. Content This has two parts to it. One is the content you wish to critique on and the other is the content you write in support of the things you wish to critique on. The points to critique on could be the functional aspects, the visual and aesthetic elements of a design. The critic should look to going into the visceral, behavioral and reflective levels of a particular design (D Norman in The Design of Everyday Things) .

Species of Criticism

This above semantic differential outlines the different approaches one could take for criticism. Would love to read more . . . → Read More: The art of critiquing

MS and UX .. love to hate?

One of the classic principles in User Experience is that in no condition you should confuse the user. I am sure every practising User Experience Designer would tell you that in the very first meeting. As a designer one has to ensure that you do not end up giving instructions that are contradictory in nature.

Check out this popup message that I got on a Microsoft site, when I was trying to signup for the Microsoft 360 tool.

Go, confuse your user!

Now most users, would not even read the text, and straightaway click on the “Hide this window” button. Yes, I did check it with a few other people around me too. They said they clicked or would click the button without reading the text. After all a button has a higher affordance, and is more likely to be clicked, when it appears on a pop-up (as that’s the thing you are supposed to do)

So an example, like this, you are just reducing the user experience but providing such options. My point, is why would you do that?

I kept clicking on the “Hide this window” and the window refused to hide!

Sometimes, I really think who does the UX at MS. I know a few friends who work there, and I should check with them. Even if the excuse is that it is a survey by a third party, I still believe that there should be a UX quality check, in an organization that is impacting atleast a billion people worldwide!

On Net Neutrality

Let me start with a question. Would you be willing to pay extra to have a particular content delivered to you at a premium price, so that you can access the same information faster? Or would you be willing to pay for a service that can be delivered on a higher priority as compared to its competitors? These are some of the issues that one needs to grapple with when we talk about Net Neutrality.

A quick search for it on Wikipedia mentions this: Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions by the Internet Service Providers (ISP) and governments on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and no restrictions on the modes of communication allowed.

The principle also states that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for the same level of access, then the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access. This video on CNET demonstrates the concept very well.

Some of the proponents of Net Neutrality are large organizations like Yahoo, EBay, Amazon and individuals like Tim Berners Lee and Barack Obama. Groups like have been pretty active in promoting Net Neutrality too.

Looking at the other side of the coin, in simple words it means that in a non-net neutral world, if you are wanting to get a particular content, say like a video, and were willing to pay extra for it, the ISP would be able to do that for you as the information dissemination is at their disposal. If you wanted a Value Added Service (VAS) at a premium, there would be an . . . → Read More: On Net Neutrality

A critical analysis of the Aadhaar Logo

In one of my earlier posts, I had written about analyzing logos by using Semiotic Theory. What it basically was to take a closer understanding through different point of views related to the viewer, the designer, etc. Of late one notices that even the governments have been interested in getting their logos designed, and seeking inputs from designers. It is a healthy sign indeed. One such example is the Government of India working hard on the Unique Identification Project under the name of Unique Identification Authority of India and headed by former Infosys co-founder, Nandan Nilekani.

Nandan Nilekani launching the new logo and name

They recently had a new name (Aadhaar) to the whole project and a new logo unveiled.

I am going to do a critical analysis of this logo based on the semiotic theory and seeking the explanations from the phenomenological understanding that I have developed over the years of designing logos and branding solutions.

To start with, when trying to understand the semiotics behind the logo, one first has to understand the referential function i.e. the content of what the logo is composed. The Aadhaar logo is primarily composed of three parts namely, the sun and the finger print and the text below the logo. There are two prime signs in the logo in terms of the imagery. These signs signify certain attributes independently and then as a collective they have a different meaning. While doing a critical analysis, it is important that we understand the signified meaning of all the individual signs and what they signify and then finally the overall logo.

Being an Indian, I understand that the association with the Sun is perhaps more than any celestial body out there. The sun is an element that is worshiped across the country and hold . . . → Read More: A critical analysis of the Aadhaar Logo

Approaches to critiquing

I love to critique. Being in a field in which I am always surrounded by the different forms of art that have been created, there is always a scope for criticism.  So photographs that I take are criticized, and so are the designs that I make and I do so the same for any movie I see. Now there is a difference between the art of critiquing and the art of reviewing. While reviews are targeted for the common, general audience who do not have a flair for work, critiques are often targeted at a very specific audience.

When we view an art / design we start with an impression of it. Over a time we start to develop an opinion about it. And these opinions over a period turn into judgments. These judgments are what we call critiques. Thus if we analyze, any judgment is therefore ultimately what is what the judge thinks about it. And these judgments are subjective. Thus criticism is a subjective act. A critic is a judge of a piece of art, who gives his or her subjective judgments based on the opinions formulated after the impression of the artwork.

Now criticism has been prevalent in the society since a long time but it is only recently that I felt that there is a need for a sincere effort for an organization to send out an honest opinion without any bias. Often one confuses criticism with only negative feedback. The art of criticism is supposed to see the piece of art a consummation of efforts. So the good things, as well as the bad things should be highlighted in a critique.  A good practice that I follow and propagate people to follow is to start by saying a positive thing about the cultural expression. This . . . → Read More: Approaches to critiquing

Understanding experiences in photography exhibitions for Interaction Designers

This is a final paper I wrote for the Interaction Culture class at Indiana University.

ABSTRACT As Interaction Designers, two of the most important things that one needs to consider are the experience and also the audience being designed for. The presentation of the cultural expression is dependent on the presentation style and a thorough understanding of the audience. This paper aims at giving a close phenomenological understanding of a highly successful photography exhibition by India’s most renowned photographer, Raghu Rai. In the later part of the paper, from these points and an overall experience point of view, it is aimed to generate points for a framework for its application in Interaction Design.

Author Keywords Phenomenology, experience, exhibition, photography, interpretation, culture

Excerpts from the paper Interaction Design and HCI are constantly seeking for analogies from the established fields like computer science, the cognitive sciences, and other disciplines like sociology, anthropology, critical theory and philosophy. There has also been considerable efforts in trying to get an understanding from film theory and looking at experiences in film.

Photography exhibitions on the other hand are highly subjective. It is therefore more likely that any critical accounts of such exhibitions are phenomenological in nature. There is always the vision of a photographer that is being conveyed. And more often that not there is a mismatch between the intent of the photographer and the intent with which the viewer interprets it. There is also the element of time that comes into the picture when doing an analysis of the exhibition.

Conclusion Feelings and sensibility cannot be rationally expressed in words. It can only be experienced. Any exhibition of this kind, not only expanded the horizons for what can be exhibited in the Indian market today, but also helped in understanding what goes on in . . . → Read More: Understanding experiences in photography exhibitions for Interaction Designers

Definitely Male : Structuralist approach to understanding brand identity

A bit of a background, Bajaj Automobiles is one of India’s industrial powerhouses. In the 1980 and the 1990’s their flagship product was a scooter.Their advertisements were targeted at the general Indian public and were only showing a scooter. Till this time I am sure hardly people in India would have known that the scooter was associated with a female following and that it stood for what we read in the Barnard book and also seen in this ad.

This is the ad that appeared in 1989 and aired for a few years. [ Instead of focusing on the usage of the metaphor of a feminism with scooters, Bajaj here was trying to capture the attention of a nation with something more important to people in this lifeworlds. So they promote the issue of Indianism and being a proud Indian and how that a Bajaj scooter defines being Indian. The signifiers that is used in this ad above were that which were very traditional. So we have the person meditating, the family values, the emphasing on social interactions, the pride in owing a scooter, the worshiping of the vehicle and the rural roads that signified that the scooter was all about being proud Indian. It signified that the scooter was ruggid, was able to resist to harsh conditions and still be a loving commodity in the lives of the people.

In 1984, the Hero Group, then the world’s largest manufacturers of bicycles, entered into a joint venture with Honda Motors of Japan to create Hero Honda Motors Ltd, which has gone on to become the world’s largest manufacturer of two wheelers. In the 1990s Hero Honda starting to eat the scooter market. There was a strong emphasis on fuel efficiency and mileage. Bajaj Motors too entered this segment, . . . → Read More: Definitely Male : Structuralist approach to understanding brand identity

Semiotic Theory application in Graphic Design Critique

I think that understanding of the sender / recipient , addresser/ addressee is really important as a designer. Just like we discussed in one of our class with the case of the User Research, I think that using this understanding is really important while doing brand identity and logo design. Here is a case of Bharti , one of India’s industrial powerhouse. The context being discussed here is the company changing their logo recently.

Old Logo

So when a company goes in for a change in their brand identity, in most cases they they get it done by a different design company (or individual at times). So we have a change in the sender. For the designer doing the design, the recipient of the design is the client. But the final addresser perhaps would be the entire company and the addressee the audience to which the design is presented (the you and me). Thus one can see how they are all different in this case.

New Logo

The sender (the actual person) here would be the person who designed the logo in the design team (which one is not sure, as many times groups in India have it done by non-designers), the actual addresser in this case is the company, Bharti (group of companies rather). This is not the same as , the founder / owner of the company speaking through the design. It’s a non human that we are being spoken by. In this case one does not even think that its Sunil Mittal the CMD, who is speaking to the addressee.

When the client (addresser) has a vision , then does it hold the same for the designer (sender) as well? While designing a logo for a company with any . . . → Read More: Semiotic Theory application in Graphic Design Critique