Critique Impact

Project Type
Qualitative Research, Evaluative

3 months

Lead Researcher

This project investigates how industrial design students apply academic critique knowledge to professional settings.

The purpose is to align educational practices with industry expectations by exploring students' and professionals' experiences. Using litearture review and semi-structured interviews, the study identifies key challenges and improvements.


Project Significance

The transition from academic to professional environments is critical in design education. While design education has evolved, the critique environment, crucial for developing soft skills, communication, and cooperation, has not. Studies show novice designers struggle with these skills, emphasizing the need to evaluate and improve the critique environment to better prepare students for professional challenges.


As the lead researcher, I was responsible for designing the research, conducting literature reviews and interviews, analyzing data, and reporting findings.


    Sejin Hwang  Lead Researcher
    Dr. Rebecca Eynon  Supervisor

      Project Background

      Kicking Off                                                                                                                                     
      This research began with the broad topic of “industrial design education.” Due to the lack of information in the problem context, it was important to identify the problem area and research gap through rigorous background research before research planning. I looked into the struggles of novice designers in the industry, design industry expectations, and existing educational gaps criticized by professionals.

      Through this research, it became evident that there is a significant discrepancy between the skills taught in industrial design education and those required in the professional design industry. This discrepancy seems evident in the critique experiences of academia versus industry.

      Key findings:

      • Novice Designers' Struggles: Novice designers seem to struggle with communication and soft skills, particularly when interacting with non-designers.

      • Industry Expectations: The interdisciplinary nature of the industry requires designers to collaborate across various fields.

      • Educational Gaps: Industrial design education often focuses on engineering aspects while overlooking the development of soft skills through class discussions. The critique environment, which is supposed to simulate professional feedback, may not accurately reflect industry realities.

      Research Objectives                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
      Assess the influence of critique knowledge

      • Explore how recent graduates utilize skills and insights gained from academic critiques in their professional roles.

      • Identify aspects of critique that support or hinder graduates’ performance in the industry.

      Evaluate the accuracy of critique environments

      • Determine how well academic critique environments mirror the realities of the professional design industry.

      • Investigate potential gaps and propose improvements to better align academic critique with industry practices.

      Research Questions                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
      1. How do recent graduates in the field of Industrial Design apply the knowledge obtained from the critique environment in their work settings?2. Based on the experiences of professionals in the field, how accurately does the critique environment portray the real-world setting? 

      1. Current educational practices may not adequately prepare students for the real-world demands of the industry. 

      2. Specifically, the critique environment in design education, which is meant to simulate professional feedback and collaboration, may not accurately reflect the actual professional landscape. 

      3. Existing discrepancies can lead to difficulties for recent graduates, particularly in communication and soft skills when working with non-design professionals in interdisciplinary teams. 

      A qualitative approach was adopted to explore the subjective experiences of key stakeholders in industrial design education and the industry. This approach allows for in-depth understanding and rich, detailed data, which is essential for exploring complex critique setting.  


      Literature Review

      Aimed to build a solid theoretical foundation, contextualize the research, and identify gaps. 

      It focused on the current state of industrial design education, critique environments, and the transition from academia to industry, framing the research questions and methodology.

      Semi-structure Interview

      The goal was to gather in-depth insights about experiences with critique in academic and professional settings, focusing on skills and challenges. 

      This method was chosen for its flexibility and consistency, effectively capturing detailed personal experiences and perspectives crucial for understanding the “nuanced” impacts of critique environments.

      Thematic Analysis

      Allowed uncovering recurring themes and insights from the interview data to draw patterns that shape conclusions and recommendations.

      This method was chosen for its flexibility and systematic approach to identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns within data, making it suitable for complex subjects like critique environments.

      Data Collection

      1. Literature Review                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
      The literature review analyzed studies on critique methods, industry expectations, and student transitions in design education. These themes informed interview questions and participant selection. Initially, only recent graduates were to be interviewed, but the review revealed the importance of including educators and design professionals, leading to three interview groups.

      This is the literature review process: 

      1. Keyword Identification:
      Industrial Design Education, Critique Environments, Designers’ Skills, Transition to Industry, Professional Practices.

      2. Database Search: peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and conference papers.

      3. Initial Filtering: the review included seminal works and recent studies published in the last ten years, focusing on highly cited or expert-recommended sources. 

      4. Detailed Review: after a detailed review, organize each study into similar topics.

      5. Thematic Synthesis: Key themes and patterns were identified, gaps were highlighted, and findings were synthesized to frame the research questions and methodology.

      2. Semi-Structured Interview                                                                                                                                               
      Based on the literature review, I created 4 categories to organize interview questions 
      • academic critique setting
      • work critique setting
      • academia & industry comparison 
      • reflection on industrial design education

      Interview questions were formed for each participant group and each interview lasted between 45 to 90 minutes online.

      Three participant groups after screening :
      • Recent graduates (graduated within the past 2 years)
      • Design educators (with 10+ yrs of teaching experience)
      • Professional designers (with 3+ yrs of industry experience + mentorship experience)


      Literature Review Summary

      01. Industrial Design Industry                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

        • The field has evolved from focusing on form and function to embracing a broader range of products, services, and experiences.

        • The contemporary design industry is increasingly interdisciplinary, requiring collaboration with professionals from diverse fields such as marketing, public health, and finance.

        02. Designers' Competencies and Challenges                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

          • The skillset for designers has expanded to include advanced communication skills, empathy, and independent decision-making.

          • Novice designers often struggle with communication in cross-functional settings and need better preparation in these areas from their education.

          03. Industrial Design Education                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

            • Traditional industrial design education focuses on craft and technical skills, but there is a growing need for curricula that address the complexities of modern design challenges.

            • Studio teaching is central to design education, but it needs to evolve to include more collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches.

            04. Role of Critique in Design Education                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

              • Critique is essential for student learning, helping to develop professional identity, critical thinking, and communication skills.

              • However, there are concerns that current critique practices may not fully prepare students for the realities of professional practice. The structure and delivery of feedback in critiques need to be re-evaluated.

              Research Gaps Identified                                                                                                                                                                                                   

                • There is a lack of comprehensive studies connecting the critique environment in education with the professional performance of design graduates.

                • Academic critiques are widely criticized, but it is difficult to capture their portrayal of the professional field due to a lack of studies on this matter.

                Interview Key Findings

                01. Need to Redefine the Term ‘Industrial Design’ in Education                                                                                                                                                                                     

                The term "industrial design" is considered outdated and does not fully encompass the range of activities that modern industrial designers engage in. This confusing boundary of industrial design also makes recent graduates struggle to realize their position in the industry during the transition.

                "I’m a user experience designer…. So it’s not really industrial design. As you know, like UX and Industrial Design, very different but there the core connection point…”
                (Participant 6)​  
                “Whether it’s education or professional, [industrial design] is to be more flexible and adaptive. I think people are struggling, or these institutions are struggling because I think they aren’t flexible enough.” (Participant 3)

                02. Basic Skills and Identity Gained from Critique Experience                                                                                                                                                                                     

                Critique helps students develop the ability to discern the quality of design work and incorporate feedback effectively. Moreover, it helped students build their identity as designers through philosophical discussions and peer interactions

                “Overall I think meeting people with similar backgrounds, and [professors] and all of that really helped me understand kind of what I felt about design and what I wanted to do. And without that, I think I really would have struggled a lot more to know what I was interested in and like all of those types of things.” (Participant 2)

                03. Voice of Non-Designers is Needed                                                                                                                                                                                       

                The current academic critique environment focuses too much on design expertise, limiting students' exposure to non-designers. This makes it difficult for recent graduates to collaborate effectively with professionals in other fields when they enter the real world. Additionally, there is no space for students to discuss invited guest critics before or after the critique sessions.

                “Overall I think meeting people with similar backgrounds, and [professors] and all of that really helped me understand kind of what I felt about design and what I wanted to do. And without that, I think I really would have struggled a lot more to know what I was interested in and like all of those types of things.” (Participant 4)

                04. Different Critique Mood Between Academia and Industry                                                                                                                                                                                     

                Graduates face challenges adapting to the gentler critique style in the industry compared to the harsh academic critiques.

                “In school, we were used to a harsh critique style, but when I joined my team at work, I was confused by the more relaxed critique style. I think it is healthier and more relieving." (Participant 1)

                05. “Next Step” after final reviews are needed                                                                                                                                                                                     

                The current structure of final reviews demotivates students as there is no next step or external discussion. This weakens the impact of professional insights in students’ development.

                "I feel like everyone is the expert in whatever they're presenting. There's no one in the class who knows more because you're the one who did the research, and so everyone just trusts your intuition that this is the best solution.” (Participant 5)

                06. Better Feedback Management is Needed                                                                                                                                                                                     

                Both educators and senior designers suggest more constructive methods to capture feedback to address issues of hierarchy and loss of information.

                "We use Miro [collective brainstorming software] ... We make a point to not have names ... All the work that's done is anonymous and not attached to anyone's identity ... So the work kind of has to then stand on its own without a presentation." (Participant 6)“All the works up in the wall. Everybody gets to see it. And then everybody puts on the blindfold. With the exception of the person making the presentation. So now they have to talk about the work, without everybody in the class seeing it, which is kind of weird, right?... it’s just very different way to see it.” (Participant 2)


                01: Consider curricular Improvements in trendy and interdisciplinary sectors

                Incorporate more opportunities for students to work on projects relevant to popular industries and emerging trends, ensuring these projects include interdisciplinary aspects to broaden students' non-design encounters. Provide better communication training to prepare students for cross-functional teamwork. Additionally, include final reviews earlier in the curriculum, giving students time to improve their projects based on professional feedback.

                02: Explore Innovative Critique Tool

                Consider creating a new critique tool that encourages a balanced critique style combining constructive feedback with empathy. Facilitate better communication training and tool exploration, allowing students to freely engage in the critique space while effectively storing feedback from professionals or peers.


                Enhanced Educational Practices

                As a result, improvements in curriculum and new course and critique structures have been implemented at a design university with around 2,500 students, where studio courses typically have 12-15 students. One such course, "RE-Assembling ID," currently enrolls 13 students and explores beneficial critique tools to help them better understand real industry settings.