Illustration by Nayane de Souza Hablitzel
When you’re working on a team, there are a lot of opportunities for collaboration. But this also means there are opportunities for mixed messages, differing opinions, and multiple rounds of edits along the way.
A successful designer should know how to take feedback from their peers, clients, and managers. A good designer will also be able to counter and ask questions in a positive and respectful way. The team at large needs to understand how to encourage collaboration and provide a safe space where everyone can grow and improve together.
This is where a design critique comes into play. Design critiques provide structured time for teams to evaluate a design while providing valuable feedback to the designer. For example, does the design meet business objectives and user needs? Does the design fit the brand?
Constructive specifics and a positive tone are at the heart of a successful design critique, and this constructive criticism can give designers a fresh perspective, often leading to better, more innovative design solutions. In this article, we’ll review some of the important do’s and don’ts to follow in running a successful design critique session.
Why design critiques are important
Why should you build design critiques into your process? Here are some reasons why:
- Showing design drafts to teammates and hearing their opinions is an integral part of the design process. As much as some designers would love to stay in their own little bubble, showing our work to teammates and hearing their feedback ensures the app or web design is on the right track.
- These design critique rounds are a great way to boost morale for the entire team. With the right process in place, everyone is free to share their opinions, building a consensus while getting everyone invested in the design process. When team members feel invested in the design, they tend to feel more passionate about the project, as well as work more efficiently.
- Design critiques are a great way to help designers improve their communication skills. It allows designers to articulate the why behind their design decisions. In fact, in a recent Adobe XD poll of 150+ UX/UI designers, 45% of respondents said they were most interested in developing their communication and collaboration skills.
How to critique product or website design
It is pretty unusual to find someone who actually enjoys being critiqued. Nobody wants to see their hard work picked apart. But there are ways to do critique so it remains positive, respectful, and effective. It’s also our responsibility as designers to not take criticism personally, and to use the feedback to grow.
So, how do you critique a design effectively? One of the best ways to achieve this is by making sure your feedback includes positive elements as well as areas for improvement. Try not to have one without the other.
The love sandwich
An easy way to remember this strategy is by thinking of a love sandwich (commonly referred to as the “hamburger approach”). Your feedback will have three parts to it: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
In the beginning, start with what you like about the design. Make sure to be very descriptive when you’re talking about what you like. Don’t just say “I like it”—explain the why behind what you liked. Always link it back to how the design solves the user’s problem while addressing the business needs and goals.
The middle section can be tricky, but it’s the most important. As a designer, you need to listen and stay objective during this part. Focus on turning the feedback into an improved design instead of taking it personally. As a critiquer, it’s your responsibility to phrase your feedback in a positive, productive manner. Again, explain the why behind it. If you can suggest alternatives, even better.
Another tip for a productive critique is to refer to “the design” instead of using personal pronouns like “you.” This detaches the designer from the design to ensure that your critique is about the design work and not about the designer as a person.
For example, instead of saying “I don’t like the way you made this box blue” when you’re critiquing a website design, you could say, “I’m curious if another color would complement the design better in this box here. What about yellow, like in the logo?”
Lastly, end the critique with something else that you enjoyed and why. Ending the critique on a positive note is a great way to let the designer know that the team appreciates their hard work.
Roles involved in a design critique
The roles involved in your design critique is another important consideration. Every participant needs to understand their role and what is expected of them before, during, and after the critique. Dividing the roles will help facilitate the conversation, making the entire session more effective.
Here are the ideal roles for a design critique session:
The biggest role in a design critique is the person presenting the design. It is their responsibility to show the design, provide all necessary context, and articulate the decisions behind the design. It’s also a good idea to start with business and customer goals, as well as remind the team of the website information architecture, to get everyone on the same page as to what problem the design should solve.
The facilitator is there to ensure the discussion stays on topic and the environment remains positive and productive. Tangents can be costly to everyone’s time, so the facilitator should remind the group of the focus and goals of the meeting when needed.
A good design critique should also have a notetaker who captures important highlights and questions that come up. If the group starts going down a tangent, take note of the topic for a later time. This will help everyone feel at ease, knowing their points have been heard and will be addressed at a more appropriate time. If any sketching happens during the meeting, the notetaker should take photos of everything. After the meeting, the notetaker should share a summary with everyone present as well as any other stakeholders.
Your critiquers are the primary audience of the session and should include other designers, developers, product managers, and relevant stakeholders. Their responsibility is to provide constructive feedback about the design. This feedback can range from specifics like the UI of the design to broader elements like the user experience as a whole. Remember: If you’re one of the critiquers, this is where you’ll use the love sandwich (or hamburger) technique.
5 do’s of a design critique
- Be specific – Make sure your feedback includes a complete explanation of why you do or do not like a certain area. Instead of saying “I think it’s better with the phone number up top,” try something like: “I think it’s better with the phone number up top because when the user is on their mobile app, they need quick access to the restaurant’s number without having to scroll.
- Be respectful – When the designer is in the middle of presenting, this is not the time to shout out your feedback. Instead, wait until they’re done presenting and it’s your turn to share your thoughts.
- Suggest a solution – When offering a critique, try to give a concrete solution or alternative. If you are unable to come up with one, you could suggest additional user research or user testing to learn more about the issue.
- Link feedback to goals – Always link your feedback to the business and user goals. This helps validate the feedback and keeps the conversation focused.
- Stay positive – One of the most important things to remember is to be positive! Don’t forget to acknowledge what is working in the design. It’s extremely important to maintain a positive environment so that everyone stays productive.
5 don’ts of a design critique
- Don’t be biased – Make sure your critique is not driven by personal goals. What matters is your user, not your personal preferences. Additionally, this is not the time to try to outsmart others on your team.
- Don’t make it personal – Refer to “the design” and limit your use of the word “you” so that your feedback doesn’t sound like a personal attack on the designer.
- Don’t come unprepared – If you are presenting, do a trial run of your prototype to make sure it operates correctly before the meeting begins. This will avoid wasting any time or a rocky start that may impact the rest of your presentation.
- Don’t get distracted – Limit all distractions by turning off cell phones and other distractions. When you’re listening to the presenter, give them your undivided attention and don’t multitask. Eye contact and body language show the presenter you are listening and engaged.
- Don’t end on a bad note – To complete the love sandwich successfully, don’t end on a bad note. Keep the environment upbeat by leaving the designer with something positive.
Design critiques help products and websites grow
In the end, you need to have design critiques to receive feedback and help your product, website, and other design projects grow. Whether your focus is a website or app design, add a structured design critique into your process and you’ll see just how effective they can be.