Illustration by Bhavya Minocha

You’ve finally completed your website design. You and the team crossed the threshold of making sure the designs are complete and used the unity principle of design. You’re excited to get the website in front of users to solve their problem; however, there’s another important step in the process known as the design review.

The core purpose of a design review is to get feedback from people across different departments, many of whom have had very little to do with the design up to this point. A design review ensures that the design meets the business’s goals and those of the users. Design reviews are crucial, and if not done well, they can go wrong quickly, so make sure to follow the tips below for a successful process.

How is a design review done?

Every organization executes a design review according to the structure of their organization. As a result, each design review process will vary slightly. However, they all follow a general format which includes:

  1. Inviting the right people
  2. Pre-review
  3. Creating a safe space
  4. Providing feedback
  5. Prioritizing next steps
  6. Communicating results
Illustration of laptop with three illustrated people and an “under construction” sign.
Illustration of laptop with three illustrated people and an “under construction” sign. Image credit Adobe.

Start with a good design

Before discussing the components within a design review, you and your team must execute a good design. Each design should include elements required by its stakeholders, user research, and context, which explains the existence of features using annotations or a supplementary document.

One of the quickest ways to ensure the integrity of the design and meet business goals is to use these seven effective principles in creating your design:

  • Contrast
  • Balance
  • Pattern
  • Movement
  • Proportion
  • Emphasis
  • Visual hierarchy

Implementing the above principles is an important first step to help minimize the number of changes that will take place during and after the design review. Each step represents a part of the unity principle of design and together they serve as a pre-checklist for the design review.

Illustration of hands holding a clip board with papers and symbols around it.
Illustration of hands holding a clip board with papers and symbols around it. Image credit Adobe.

The design review

The design review is an important part of the design process. It’s a form of checks and balances among stakeholders within the organization, which guarantees the inclusion of all relevant elements, features, and criteria. It’s also a way to get a clear view of your team’s blind spots and new perspectives that you weren’t aware of when designing.

Not only that, it’s also an opportunity to collaborate with others outside of the design team. This is vital because design collaboration provides new perspectives that lead to better experiences for the end-user.

Successfully executing a design review requires structure and a timeline so that you get the most out of the process. Creating a clear timeline for the review focuses the efforts of everyone involved in a design review, so that clear decisions are made, and the overall process is productive.

What about websites? How do you review a website design? Well, the structure remains the same for a website, a web app, an app, etc. Here is a general structure that’s particularly useful:

1. Invite the right people

What makes for an effective design review is including the right people, like design leadership, in the process. This may include individuals and subject matter experts (SMEs) outside of the design team like technical writers, engineers, and marketing specialists. The goal of having people outside of the design team is to gain access to their perspectives.

Doing so also helps remove personal attachments to the design. As a member of the design team for a website, it’s easy to become attached to the work, especially if it’s a website that you connect with in some way or spent significant time working on. Allowing members outside the design team into the process can reduce biases and provide a more neutral perspective.

Choose individuals who share an interest in the website’s success. This means identifying members who will need to code the final design or write and edit copy in the next phase. The best way to do this is by getting access to the full website design and development cycle along with the people responsible for its production. With that in mind, you can select the right people who represent those groups.

2. Preview the website design

Before the design review happens, everyone involved needs to be briefed by being provided with access to the website and assets so they can take an initial look and jot down notes that will be useful later. Doing so helps reduce time spent explaining the design for the first time. Suggest that participants write down questions they want answered during the formal review like “What is this design supposed to communicate?” or “What is that feature for?”

3. Create a safe space

Every member of the design review process must feel valued and welcomed. To do this, clearly communicate guidelines like the agenda, goals, and expectations of each member, and encourage them to share respectful feedback.

Giving reviewers sticky notes to share their ideas or questions offers them the opportunity to share without having to do so “on stage.” Then, the facilitator can collect their sticky notes and acknowledge their contribution as the design review progresses while making sure the reviewer feels comfortable.

4. Give and receive feedback

Giving objective, respectful, and actionable feedback is both a science and an art. In a design review, giving feedback is one of the main goals, but it requires the design team to remove personal attachments to the designs. They allow them to receive useful feedback, which represents opportunities for improvement.

Feedback in a design review is not personal but rather it’s about looking at the design as a solution to a problem. As a reviewer, one of the questions you can ask is, “Is the design solving this problem in the best way possible?”

One of the ways to provide feedback that is equitable and objective is by using a feedback matrix. A feedback matrix is a 2×2 matrix with predefined quadrants. Each quadrant will have a name such as:

  • Likes: Features or aspects of the design you like.
  • Ideas: New ideas for the design.
  • Challenges: Areas of the design that are challenging.
  • Questions: Parts of the design that aren’t clear.
A 2x2 matrix with four quadrants including Likes, Ideas, Challenges, and Questions.
A 2×2 matrix with four quadrants including Likes, Ideas, Challenges, and Questions. Image Credit

Each quadrant above is to be addressed using sticky notes. Spend no more than 30 minutes writing and reviewing the notes placed in each of the quadrants. This will give you what you need for the remainder of the design review process.

5. Prioritize next steps

After feedback is given, it’s important to prioritize the tasks to be done following the review. This is useful for both the design team and the reviewers. For the design team, it helps them focus their time post-design review. The reviewers are made aware of what is needed to achieve the unified goal and they will walk away knowing what they can do to help with the website design.

One of the ways to prioritize the next steps is by using the Eisenhower Matrix, which is a 2×2 matrix that measures the importance and urgency of a product and its features. This is useful when deciding what needs to be done when applying changes based on feedback.

Illustration of the 2x2 Eisenhower Matrix that focuses on importance and urgency.
Illustration of the 2×2 Eisenhower Matrix that focuses on importance and urgency. Image Credit Adobe.

Prioritizing the results of a design review also keeps the team focused on the end goal that each team member is invested in. For example, a developer would know how long it takes to develop a feature on the website that others may not. The group can then decide if it’s urgent because of the resources needed.

6. Communicate results of the design review

Clearly communicate to the design team what the results were of the design review. This clarifies what action needs to be taken and by whom to keep the design moving forward efficiently. It also serves as a way to archive feedback that may be useful in creating future designs. Be sure to include the following when communicating to the team:

  • Decisions made and by whom
  • Actions to be taken and by whom
  • When the next meeting will take place to follow-up on action items

This level of transparency is valuable for the success of the website design, so everyone has visibility into the project from beginning to end.

Illustration of a blue mobile device, checklists, and form fields.
Illustration of a blue mobile device, checklists, and form fields. Image credit Adobe.

What is a design review checklist?

Not to be confused with an agenda or general to-do list, the design review checklist is a direct result of the design review and part of the product design process. It’s a finalized list of things needed to complete the website design and includes the criteria and elements that were agreed upon during the design review. As work is being completed, the items are checked off by the assigned owner to indicate when they are finished.

This document is the go-to for updates on the completion of the design before deployment and is the result of a successful design review.

Everyone benefits from a design review

A design review is not just for the benefit of the design team – it helps the business save money by avoiding the need to make costly changes to the design after deployment. The user benefits from experiencing a great product that helps them accomplish their goals, which requires a structured collaboration involved in design review.

The time spent conducting a design review is worth the investment. It’s an opportunity for team members to collaborate and gain understanding about a design; doing so will ensure that all stakeholders benefit and the design itself is successful.