November 06, 2012

The Art of the Design Review - PART I

The Design Review – it’s the most anxious-inducing, vulnerable conclusion to your design project for studio. To be able to present your design concept and ideas to your peers and a jury of professors and practitioners can be a bit scary. I remember talking to someone when I visited the Pratt Institute for their tours and the student told me that she was critiqued by Steven Holl (If I was in her shoes, I would not know how to keep confident, calm, cool, and collected - I'd probably be scared).

Everyone from time to time has been ripped apart at the design review, weather your concept was not strong, your graphical representation was crap, or saying the wrong things being sleep deprived caused a stir with the Design Jury. We have all been there, and here’s some things that may help you get the most of your design review. I must say I'm not the expert of the art of Review, but I must say it's really practicing and putting yourself out there and feeling comfortable to pitch to your audience.

Here are some things that I have noticed for myself in presenting and watching my peers present their studio projects:
1) Be confident! You have to sell and pitch your work with a certain degree, it means not being overtly apologetic of your flaws or errors (unless it’s blatantly obvious, and your jurors and professors would know anyways...). You have to stand as if you’re a businessman selling your work to a client – you need to convey your pitch with some swag. 
2) Don’t be arrogant.
referring to the top part. I remember my psychology professor in my elective mentioned how confidence and arrogance are two different things that many get mixed up. You may get burned. 
3) Don’t be reactive with a Juror in the middle of review 
You cannot take a negative comment personally and fight back so to speak. You want to be diplomatic as possible in defending your design or knowing when to pick your battles. For most of the time, I`ve seen this, and it fails and you’ll probably get your design mutilated with greater scrutiny - crash and burn. (unless you have another jury member that disagrees, you may get some line of defense) 
3) NEVER SAY – because Professor X told me to design it this way.This looks bad on you as a designer, and looks bad on your professor to his colleagues.
3) NEVER SAY – because it looks cool/nice/beautiful/interesting. You need to back up your intentions and gestures with thoughtful decisions. To expose a view? To reflect the historical past? Never backup your moves solely for aesthetics. 
4) Keep it structured like an essay/story.
Just like a story, the “hamburger essay” we’ve been taught in high school – have a beginning, medium, and end. Start with the general – dig deep into the details – close with the general, reiterating the overall idea.

5) Know and own your presentation medium.
If it’s a series of presentation boards or a slideshow – there’s a different dynamic in how to present your project. For instance, consider projected slideshows, you have the opportunity to change the slides as you talk (well for professors and my reviewers, they enjoyed how I was talking synching my slides fluidly, the step-by-step building of a diagram or map). It also means providing a visual scale than saying your projected images are 1:100 scale.

6. Don’t read off your note slides/cards word by word. 
I get bored easily by these types of presenters. It does not look that presentable to be just looking at the slide or reading off your screen or notes – public speaking requires being able to connect with your audience and look at them from time to time.

7. Project your voice!I was a shy person in high school – the only way to get better is to bite the bullet and keep getting stronger and stronger by practicing..

8. Prepare ahead...if you can, the night before
Rehearse your slides or your boards, write down the outline of what you want to say. I think the problem of reading off notes or slides is that you can lose time – you have to know the outline of your presentation so that in case you’ve been told to end your presentation, you can easily strategize and sum down your project. it also means getting some rest (if you can) at least the night of your review
9. Don’t bullsh*t on the spot
I hate seeing students that would justify the negative comments of one of the jurors...if you made a dead end-corridor condition or lobby that sucks and it get’s called out – just don’t justify how right it is. Don`t call that rape alley communal space. Mistakes are mistakes. You have to pick your battles with what’s worth fighting for more – your concept. 
10. Have a Review Buddy –  my professor in my Architectural Writing class was talking about this book dedicated to the Design Review. The author of that book suggested that students should be having a partner that would be writing down the comments made by the jury while your friend is working – very good for the mid-review, and if you want to revise your project for your portfolio.

These are just some of the things that I have noticed from my experience with reviews in undergrad...along with watching other peoples reviews. What`s your advice to architecture students in presenting? What do you think is missing? Feel free to share your tips on dealing with studio presentations.


  1. I agree with almost all your points above, but I can't stress the importance of A. Practicing your Pitch and B. Selling your story. Any good set of drawings, diagrams and verbal compliments should be cohesive and address how it solved the problem at hand. Simply saying you did this, this and this, is not a story. If, for example, you designed a cafe that had loads of glass and a structural form, discuss how that would bring in more light, air and give place to the design.
    Oh, did I mention practice? You may have your defense lined up in your head and you have mentioned it to your colleagues and classmates, but your review should not be the first time you've stood up and presented it. You have no where to hide on game day and it's a much different feeling that sitting at a desk and having an informal discussion. At The Designated Sketcher and Young Architects Forum, we preach the difference that practice makes and how different the feeling is when you have to perform in front of a group.

  2. Definitely be confident! Present what you want the crits to talk about. You are in charge of your project and you should take charge in your presentation as well. Know your strengths but also your weakness in your project so your defense wall is down. If you are not good at presentations then make sure your diagrams and drawings speak for themselves.

    This is a great article!