Since there's an active discussion on critiquing each others Ning Networks, here is a web page on hints for critiquing a site -- http://www.digital-web.com/articles/web_design_critique/ -- okay, it's on slightly different subject (actual HTML design rather than Ning Networks) but it's still pretty useful. I'll highlight the major points here:[NOTE THAT THE FOLLOWING TEXT IS FROM THE ABOVE LINK, PARAPHRASED IN THE CONTEXT FOR PEOPLE CRITIQUING NING NETWORKS. THAT SAID, I PRETTY MUCH AGREE. :) ]
Asking for an opinion
The more experienced a designer is, the less s/he's likely to ask people for opinions on her designs. After all, everyone else that hangs out on a list or message board is less experienced than you are, right?
When you are offering up your wares for the world to rip into, it can help to be as specific as possible about what you want them to look at. Here are some suggestions:
- Clearly state what the objective of the site or page is.
- Be specific about what you want comments on - and hope that people will read that before they start offering opinions.Taking it
It can be hard to take criticism, but as I've already said, sometimes it can be tremendously useful. While the tendency may be to listen only to people whom you know and perhaps whose work you admire, this can often shut you off from those out-of-nowhere responses that really make you think.
First of all though, I do tend to listen far more carefully to the opinions of people whose work I admire--that's just natural.
Also, I do tend to discount the type of opinion which says something along the lines of "I don't like your design at all, it's just not my style." (Even worse is that very helpful "your design sucks".) That's not really the point--everyone has his or her preferred styles, or colors, but a decently educated eye can tell the difference between good and bad design.
On the flip side, not all positive feedback is useful either. "I just love everything you do!" is not too in-depth or constructive... it's flattering for sure, but is it useful?
The best type of criticism tends to be very specific, in my opinion. Comments such as "the use of the navigation can be more user-friendly if arranged such a way" or "the color contrast would be better if." etc. are specific and critical without being negative.
When asked for an opinionTaking criticism can be tough, but often dishing it out can be harder. I don't think that anyone wants to hurt someone's feelings; but then again, what can one do when confronted with a design you can't stand? Do you lie? Well...it depends.
Beware of newbies
First of all, consider the source. Is it someone who is seriously considering becoming a professional web designer [or a hardcore Ning user -Ern] --or perhaps someone who already calls himself a pro? If so, then I think that you should be as tough on them as any of their clients might be. On the other hand, if it were someone who is doing this as a hobby, or just starting out, you would probably want to be much gentler.
If you see something positive, it might be good to emphasize this first--especially if you see some kind of potential. Perhaps their designs are way too busy and cluttered (a common problem for beginner-type pages) but perhaps their use of color is unique; then you can latch onto that.
When there's some more potential:
If the person is asking for a critique, and you think their work is worth offering opinions about, then it's a different story. At which point, if you have any experience yourself (and the other party respects your opinions), it's a chance to become a mentor. This can be a truly rewarding experience. It can be a joy to see someone blossom as they absorb the criticism they receive.If the person is not being specific, as is detailed in the above section, ask them those questions. Who is the intended audience? Unless the work in question is a pure for-fun piece, it doesn't necessarily matter how beautiful it is--it also has to be practical. Consider your "student's" goals--are they doing this just for fun, or do they want to make a living at it? Maybe they are very good at doing sites with lots of complicated decorative elements, but if they're aiming for business clients perhaps they'd appreciate some tips on how to make more "boring" sites. And so on.
Hope this helps.- E