We often discuss the changes needed for automotive companies to be successful and “up-to-date” in an increasingly demanding technological world.  One of the ways design studios are starting to embrace technology is based on the tried-and-true method of critiquing the work of other Designers.  Group critiques, or “crits” as we affectionately call them, are a part of the design world that no other field or industry engages in.  It opens the floor to opinion from other designers, often leading to vastly improved products visually, increased effectiveness and appropriateness of a design, and market-leading products.  In fact without crits a design can end up short-sighted and a designer not pushed further towards a proper direction.

With the usage of new tools and design methods, critiques must adapt to better serve the designers AND the product.  Modern methods of bettering design critiques include Smart Board (interactive white board) usage with notation and sketch overlays, increased usage of technologies such as WebX and GoToMeeting, and even video conferencing.

Local Motors has a unique situation: Being an online community of designers, students, engineers, and car aficionados they must allow for a variety of feedback from potential customers & designers in order to make their product successful, as well as provide feedback to hopeful designers in improving their concepts and design skills.

The method they decided to employ is unique, but steeped in what the community already knows.

Read on to find out how.

The Vehicle Build for the LM Rally Fighter

Ariel Ferreira Cronk, PR manager for Local Motors, explains:

As a company, part of our competitive advantage is the direct connection we have with our community of customers… We are able to gain feedback before it is too late, and invite our buyers to be a part of the development process.  There are no surprises on our end in terms of how a design will be received, there are no surprises for the customer in terms of the design not turning out like they thought it would.  Plus, our customers have strong opinions about the cars they want to own and drive.  We are not catering to people who see their car merely as a form of transit, we are catering to people who are a step away from setting their car a place at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  They care immensely, and they want to participate.

This feedback takes place in two different ways: Checkup and Design Process.


The Checkup for the LM Rally Fighter

The Checkup process is aimed at giving any and all community members the opportunity to display their concept/sketch/model/presentation to the LM community for valuable feedback.  Community members offer suggestions in the form of comments, and often do overlay sketches and notations to help the designer.  This is done by leaving a comment in the style of a message board.. it can be quick and insightful, or it can be a thorough investigation into the work, including sketches and possible improvements.  Comments are dated, allowing the designer the opportunity to make any necessary modifications they see fit and post the updated work.  This then allows the community to give feedback to the update and so on, allowing the concept to evolve at a more natural pace and at the designer’s discretion.  The community is encouraged to voice their opinion, helping not only the designer’s work, but each other in developing their design knowledge and exposure.

The Checkups are also valuable in development of an entry into the several design competitions that Local Motors makes available to its community.  By allowing the community to give pointers on what makes a design better, it can lead to a better entry into the contests.

This is the standard crit process.  We as designers gather around a wall of images, giving feedback and often sketching lines on the work for improvements.  The Checkup process does it digitally.

In a corporate studio the Checkup can be employed in cross-campus critiques, should regular group crits not be possible due to distance, schedules, etc.  This would allow a studio to give feedback to their designers, and can be especially helpful in getting regular feedback from Design management with increasingly tight schedules without having to administer formal meetings.

Design Process

The Ex-Ta-C concept in the Design Process

The Design Process is more intimate between the designer and the Local Motors staff, resulting in a product that draws interest from the LM team as a viable entry into the market.  These are the more “serious” critiques.  They are invite-only and often begin life as a Checkup.  These garner the attention of all aspects of Design, and rely on the creation of a “complete” design as a final goal.  The products resulting from the Design Process, whether they go into production or not, can be looked at as premiere pieces of work, often highly regarded.

Where the DP can be even more valuable is within a project-by-project basis.  For instance, a project team within a corporation is working on concept-x.  By keeping the DP access limited it can allow team members to be vocal and comment about a project should they not be able to attend meetings, or should they have valuable input that cannot wait until a meeting.  Normally, this is done through email or intranet file-sharing.  However, through the Design Process the changes and comments can be documented efficiently through the project’s lifespan, and key milestones can be seen throughout its development.

And finally…

In conclusion, the Local Motors methodology of critiquing is a fantastic new way to develop a concept, project, or sketch and allow an entire community of designers and team members to have a say and offer valuable input, from around the world, and at a respectable project pace.

Are there other methods for a successful crit?  Sure.  Nothing will ever take the place of critiquing live in front of a group.  So as LM develops their processes further and learn about what is/isn’t working they will continue to adapt their crit system and help develop the work that designers create.

Check out the crit of the Rally Fighter and feel free to leave comments.


[All images and designs are courtesy Local Motors and the designers]