Crit day can be a daunting event, especially if you are in your first year and haven’t been through it before. Whether you have had a little experience of pinning up your work in front of your fellow students, tutors and anyone else who happens to be around or not, hopefully this post will give you a few tips on how to prepare for your crit.
Many students see crits as a barrage of abuse from tutors, visiting critics or fellow students, after weeks of hard work which leaves you feeling deflated and miserable! However, it is important to get used to presenting your work, as architects in practice often have to present their schemes to clients and planners so it is great practice to get comfortable speaking about your project.
I never particularly enjoyed crits, or reviews as they are sometimes called. I am stupidly shy when it comes to talking in front of groups, and the pure thought of standing up and discussing my work would fill me with fear. I knew it was a problem for me and I knew it was really important to overcome it. Now, my shyness hasn’t progressed a great deal, but my capacity to deal with the situation of a crit has definitely improved. The most important thing to do before crit day – is get prepared!
I knew that if I spent the time making sure I knew my project inside out, knew it from all angles, and planned how I would discuss it and present it – at least I had a fighting chance of making a good impression. Of course, the shaky hands and dry mouth still happened from time to time, but with my confidence in the project I was presenting, I got away with it!
So, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. Here are some of my ideas to help you prepare for your crit and make sure you sail through without a worry in the world!!
What is the purpose of the crit? Hopefully, you will have been given some form of guidance as to what will be expected of you during your crit. You hopefully will have been given a timescale, which is worth noting. You will have some sort of objective. So, are you presenting your work as a final design, are you presenting your concept ideas for discussion, if you are unsure, ask for the objective from your tutor/professor.
If you have been given key points in your assignment brief that need to be addressed, make sure you mention these in your presentation – so take the time to revisit your assignment brief and extract the key goals of the design. Be prepared to discuss your concept and how you got to where you are in the project.
Planning and Practice
The run up to a crit is often a frantic time for most students. They can end up cracking out hundreds of drawings with no real purpose, all of which get pinned up no matter how good or bad they are. As the crit deadline approaches I think it is wise to make a plan of a small selection of drawings you want to produce, and how they are going to convey the story of your project. Work with purpose to produce a succinct selection of work that is clear and well planned. It is far better to produce a small set of great drawings than a mass of ok to bad drawings that will instantly draw negative comments.
It is always good to get some practice in before you speak about your project in your crit. The more practice you have presenting your work, the more confident you will feel when you come to present in front of an audience. Try to pick five key points that you want to discuss about your design so you have a simple focus throughout the discussion. You can even try practicing your presentation on a non architect friend and see if they have any comments on your project or presenting style.
Prepare to be questioned
Some crits take the form of a presentation, with questions after you have spoken about your project. These are more predictable and comfortable as you don’t have people interrupting you as you discuss your project. However, some crits are more question and answer based. If this is so, you have to expect the unexpected. Again, make sure you have checked and double checked the brief, have you covered the key important elements of design requirements?
Have you asked yourself why? Why have you made the design decisions you have made. What has driven you in this project? You need to demonstrate your motivation for the project, by being able to describe why the scheme has taken its direction. You may find you had a driving motivation to take certain decisions in your project that didn’t work out, this is a great opportunity to discuss this, gather feedback and learn from the crit, rather than fearing the outcome.
If someone asks you a question and you are not sure of the answer, don’t be a politician and avoid it, just give an honest answer. You will gain more respect for your honesty, than some embarrassing bumbled answer….If your crit is held during the development of your project you have the opportunity to say that you will consider peoples comments, take into account points raised as you progress your design.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to seek help. I know so many students are reluctant to converse with their lecturers/tutors/professors outside of the lecture theatre, but if you need guidance ask for it. If your crit is just around the corner and you are totally stuck, or need a few tips go and ask someone who knows. You will be commended for your enthusiasm, and keenness to succeed.
What will happen on the day?
Find out about who will be present at the crit, where it will be and what the schedule of the day is.
Will there be guest critics who have never seen your project before, or will it be existing tutors who know the projects well?
How long will you have to present? Make sure you practice going through your presentation and keep it within time.
What technology is available to you? Will you have a space limit for pinning up work?
Having knowledge ahead of time will help with your preparations.
So, you have everything in hand and you are ready to go out there and impress everyone with your groundbreaking design! Let’s look at a few ways to help you with the presentation itself.
Make sure you are comfortable. You have enough to think about with the presentation, so make sure you are comfortable in your own body, and wear clothes you feel comfortable in.
Try and move around a bit – but not too much!! Move your hands like you would normally, use them to enforce a point, gesture to your work, point out elements of your design. Being able to do this will help you to come across more naturally, and help the audience feel relaxed.
Try to keep your notes to a minimum
How will you present your work? I would try and steer away from reading from a script if you can. It sounds awful. If you need a prompt, maybe use some notes, with key sentences that will remind you of some of the important things you wanted to say. I used to always jot down a few notes, to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything.
Ideally, you want to speak naturally about your work, but this will come with time and practice. Having this natural confidence comes down to the time you have spent preparing. The more time you have put into thinking about the process of your presentation, the more confident you will be in talking about it.
Keep it simple
No matter how clever, complex or elaborate your design is – you must be able to explain it in a simple, comprehensible manner. When working in professional practice you often have to discuss and present your projects to clients who have no previous architectural knowledge or experience. They do not appreciate superfluous architectural jargon, just keep it clear and simple. Great credit can be given to a student who is able to discuss their innovative complex design in a succinct and intelligible manner.
Don’t take it personally
Don’t forget – everyone is not ‘out to get you’ – despite how it may feel. Your crit panel will be looking to get the best out of you. This comes from challenging you to think about your design, and respond to criticism, or questions appropriately. Try not to take it personally, and come away having learnt something, and consider how to put it into practice for your next design crit/review. In the same way that you look at it as ‘just your job’ when you present your design out in practice, the crit process is ‘just your uni work’ – and it can be completely consuming at times but find a way to switch off from it.
Respect your fellow students, and quietly observe and participate if appropriate, during their crit. Everyone has worked hard and it is unfair to chat with your friends while other people are presenting their work and trying to stay focused.
Absorb the feedback
Pay attention to feedback positive or negative, and be respectful – you could even ask a friend to take notes during your crit. During your architecture career you will have many people be very open with you about their opinions of your work, you need to learn to deal with it, good or bad. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Take time, the following day, once you have had some sleep and aren’t feeling so stressed to really go through the comments you received, make notes and use the experience as a learning process and a step forward for your next design.
Turn the tables and ask questions. Why not? If you have a question, or are unsure of something then ask. This gives you the opportunity to start a discussion on an aspect of the design you wish to talk about, or you can ask questions about some of the comments your crit panel are making. Either way, if you have a question – ask it!
If you are struggling putting your presentation boards together I have written a post all about that which you can find here:
The main point of these crits is to reflect real life when you have to go out to present your design to clients / planning authorities and so on. They also allow you to develop the skill of being able to take an objective viewpoint of your own design. You can reflect on the comments you have received and adjust your design in the way that you see fit. Each time you have a design review or crit you are building your knowledge of how to deal with the situation, how to present your work in a clear (and maybe persuasive) manner. If nothing else, surely it’s character building?!
Good luck with your crit – I hope it goes well 🙂
Image 1 – pivot dublin
Image 2 – Crit Space Kent
Image 3 – Bartlett
Image 4 – Westminster University school of Architecture