Jeffrey Pastva, AIA LEED AP
Pastva is an Assistant Editor for the YAF Connection, serves as Chair of the Young Architects Forum of Philadelphia, founder of The Designated Sketcher website and
a Project Architect at Haley Donovan in Haddonfield, NJ.
Constructive criticism is valuable currency in the world of the designer. Without it, designers have no litmus against which to test their paper theories and would be unprepared for the gauntlet before them. But with it, we gain perspective from our peers, our professors, and our colleagues before it is presented in front of any authority. Not all feedback is created equal though; the credentials of the source, the level/quality of detail, and the diversity of perspective all affect its value. Realizing a need for high caliber critique, I set out to create an online platform that allows students and professionals from different backgrounds and status to interact regarding their works-in-progress.
The site is called The Designated Sketcher and has been live for just over two years, although the initiative has been years in the making. It was born out of an idea that if we could harness the collective power of Internet message boards and mix them with our image-heavy design culture, we could make a more designer-friendly discussion. The site was also built in response to the various showcase sites that either don’t allow commentary or have very empty feedback such as “likes.” “Liking” something is very easy in the virtual age, but the feedback would have much more meaning if the admirer were to engage with the author. It’s from this engagement that designers can determine whether or not there is value in their design and what they can do to improve in the future.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive, as the site has provided an additional resource for both students and emerging professionals needing feedback on all things design. The success of the site has also reinforced the notion that designers desire a heavy discourse that isn’t always readily available. For example, the traditional methods of a designer’s project discussion happen during a desk crit or pin-up, both requiring the coordinated effort of multiple schedules and engaged parties, which may not be a problem during regular studio or office hours. But what if a designer needs help in the interim? Instead of only turning to his/her peers (whose relative experience is at the same level), what if they could pin-up virtually to a community of designers with opinions? This always-on service could be a way to supplement the limited time of professors, while simultaneously offering feedback from a fresh set of eyes. Furthermore, by making students’ work more accessible to a wider pool of players, the site allows an interaction that could lead to opportunities such as employment or collaboration with peers outside of traditional circles. To date, connections have been formed by otherwise disconnected individuals.
Despite our offerings of free, community-based advice, we have gone through a steep learning curve to discover what exactly designers desire in the form of feedback. Simply put, there isn’t a clear answer. What we have found is that students and young professionals need help with a number of items. So, even though the goal will always be design feedback for all things in the process purview (sketches, studio work, diagrams, etc.), we have started to focus on the skills that design school doesn’t always deliver. Unfortunately, these holes in the curriculum are often practical and necessary job skills that transcend the world of academia. These items include; assembling a clear portfolio, public speaking, and effectively communicating within a team. This happens mostly through our online platform, but we have run a series of in-person workshops that reinforce the industry standards that help emerging professionals stand out among a crowd.
Part of our duties as we emerge as a leading resource for designers is to adapt and respond to the needs of our community. So, as we continue to offer these opportunities to students and emergent professionals, we are constantly looking for ways to expand the conversation. That includes providing a voice to those seeking constructive criticism, connecting spheres of influence, and helping designers realize that putting work out there will lead to good things. After all of our work, at least one thing is clear: There is demand for an online mechanism for feedback and we will continue to provide as many avenues for personal growth as we possibly can. ■
"I don’t really see the direct correlation between the built work and the whimsical sketch, but nonetheless each one by themselves is quite impressive. What I really enjoy about the space, besides the impossible to pull off pitched skylight, is how the viewing area is set up for a panorama to the exterior. In the absence of a traditional hearth/gathering area (which has started to become the TV room in American vernacular) the inhabitant is set up for view through the picture window, which remains true to its name."
Visiting Critic is a continuing series of thought provoking observations from architectural insider Jeffrey Pastva - Editor in Chief at YAF Connection, Communications Director for the AIA National Young Architects Forum and a Project Architect at JDavis in Philadelphia. His critical eye will cover everything from the state of architectural education to the future fate of the profession. Expect ideas in your inbox bi-weekly.