Stanford University

Assignment 1: Critique

CS 247 takes many of the concepts you learned in introductory design coursework and deepens them. You are no longer an amateur, so we won't be treating you like one. We look forward to seeing you exceed our high expectations.


The goal of this assignment is to introduce you to critique as a component of how design is evaluated and improved.


By professionals

Aza Raskin's essay on how to critique an interface may be instructive. Bret Victor's critique of the future of ubiquitous computing visions is one of my favorite, demonstrating that you can critique a design without focusing on button placement.

By your peers

We particularly liked this submission by Lindsey and this submission by Kimiya.

Equip yourself

A good drawing pad or sketchbook is a critical part of the designer's toolkit. Make sure you've purchased a pad and pen and bring it to class on Friday. Act quickly, because we are not the only class on campus that's asking you to buy a sketchbook and they do sell out. Important features: you must be able to easily tear out the pages (so we can tape them on the walls), no lines, no flimsy pages, no tiny pages (we recommend at least 5"x8"), no thin-lined pens (go for something with a reasonably thick ink stream), and no pencils. The Stanford Bookstore sells drawing pads, as does University Art and Accent Arts. If you get ahead of the game, use Amazon Prime Student to overnight some great ones from there.

Interactive Explanations

Interactive Explanations are an emerging web trend to explain concepts using a combination of text and interactive visual elements to make the explanation more vivid and engaging for users. Here are two sites with professional examples:

  • Distill The mission of Distill is to recognizing outstanding work communicating and refining ideas in Machine Learning and adjacent topics. They are giving annual prizes of $10,000 for novel interactive explanations.
  • Explorable Explanations A collection of interactive explanations on a variety of scientific concepts from many different authors.
The goal of an interactive explanation is to teach an idea primarily through the reader experiencing the concept, not through reading about it.


You will author two critiques for this assignment.
  • For the first critique, pick an interactive explanation from one of the two websites listed about. Write a critique that addresses the goal of "teaching through interaction." (Do not use the explanation discussed in class, "The Parable of the Polygons".)
  • For the second critique, pick an interface that you created, perhaps in CS 147. Tell us the high level goal of your application and write a critque based on that goal.

Critique each interface. Each critique should be no more than 300 words. Feel free to use a combination of text and visuals. Remember that a critique is more than a usability inspection. Please begin each critique with a full page screengrab of the interface so that we can see it clearly.

Finally, write up one paragraph answering the following questions:

  • Is your assessment subjective?
  • Do you think the subjectivity invalidates your assessment?


Submit one combined PDF of your critiques. (Direct link to Canvas submission.)

Print out full-page versions of the interfaces or your annotated visual critique and bring it to class on Friday. We'll be looking at each others' work!

Please post any questions about this project or others to the class Piazza forum.

Grading rubric

The first assignment is pass-fail, giving us a chance to get to know your design and critique skills.

Category Unsatisfactory Satisfactory
0: Critique is incomplete or only focuses on irrelevant details. 5: Critique draws attention to important aspects of the design, beyond simple usability details.

If any of the deliverables are missing, we will reduce your score by 25% per deliverable.