Evaluating Design

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As well as your work being evaluated by your tutors, we want you to be able to critically examine your work as well.  Evaluating creative work can be tricky, especially when it’s your own.

However, it is essential to your creative and professional growth that you are able to do this, both as part of the MSc programme and as part of your continuing careers. Indeed,  as the programme progresses you will take steadily more responsibility for establishing the terms of your work. In some earlier courses we will use the first submission as a way of developing goals for the final submission. By the time of the final project you will be responsible for establishing the goals and scope of your work in negotiation with your supervisor.

One way of making the task a little more manageable is to approach things from the point of view of a set of relationships between you, your work, the work’s recipient (client, examiner etc.) and the wider world. This is the approach taken by the design scholar John Wood who devised an assessment scheme tailored to the needs of design students. We really like the clarity and sophistication of this scheme, so suggest that you consider it as a way of thinking about and evaluating the work that you do.

John Wood's work relationships without labels
Relationships to consider in a piece of design (click for full size).

In the image to the left we can see three subjective relationships, between you and each of these other entities, and three more between the entities themselves. Focusing on some aspect of a particular relationship can be a good way of establishing clear and achievable criteria for approaching a design.

The set of relationships divides neatly in to two types (thus the different coloured arrows). First there are relationships to consider between yourself, as a developing individual, and those entities that provide the context for your work: the work itself; the recipient(s) of this work; and the world at large. Considering these relationships allows you to reflect on how you feel about the work that you do; how you and your clients / public might communicate or relate; and how you want to engage with the wider world.

Second, there are relationships between these entities. Your work relates to the people who receive it, in terms of expectations, usefulness, incitement etc.; it also to its wider context, through history, culture, social-fit etc. Meanwhile, the recipients of the work also have relationships with these wider contexts.

Annotated diagram of design work relationships (click for full size).
Annotated diagram of design work relationships (click for full size).

Here’s the same image, but with some additional detail about each of the relationships to help illustrate the sorts of things that could be considered.

Some of the questions you might ask yourself, whilst reflecting on your work:

  • Me→My Work: This is to do with developing a critical relationship to the work you produce. Are you developing a personal style or voice? Is it the style or voice you wish to develop? Are you accruing the skills you wish for?
  • Me→My Work’s Recipient: How do you relate to your clients? Are you able to understand better what they need by appreciating their experience of the world (i.e. empathy)? Are you and they able to make yourselves mutually understood? Are you able to use your skill and cleverness to delight them even when under constraints of time and resources?
  • Me→The World: Who are you? How do you wish to be seen / heard or known? What impact do you want to have on others and on the world around you? What is the cultural or social context that you work in? Are they the ones you want to work in? What are the historical bases for your practice? Do they inform your sense of identity?

Likewise, you can flesh out particular questions to ponder about the remaining relationships.

For practical purposes, it would be unwieldy to try and account for all these relationships in detail all the time. You should probably elect to focus on one or two when evaluating your coursework. Of course, in terms of growing as an artist / designer, each of them warrants close attention at various points.