Design critique is something I care deeply about and believe is one of the main keys to growing a healthy design team. So here are my guidelines for effective design critique in the hope that properly structured critique is included in more professional design processes.
The elements that make critique effective
A good structure for design critique helps designers get the information they need to improve their designs. For this to work effectively, all participants need to understand that structure. Before beginning the critique I introduce the following elements for the session.
- Good feedback is specific, and focuses on a person’s design, not the person themselves.
- It’s focused on solutions.
- It’s a dialogue between two people.
- It’s delivered in a timely fashion.
- Given in a caring and constructive manner (ask for permission to give feedback first!)
How to critique design work
WHEN GIVING critique:
Be aware of timing. Feedback should be offered as close as possible to the request. Designers are looking for feedback in order to progress the work forward. Delaying the feedback, can delay the production of the design.
Be specific. Generalized statements open the door to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. This can send designers off onto unintended paths that can lead to additional time being spent on course correction.
Be caring. Having work critiqued can be anxiety-inducing. Know this going into the session and be considerate of the designer presenting the work.
Be selective. Be aware of what is being requested and focus your attention on that. Some elements of the design may not be at a point for feedback.
Be balanced. Don’t be overly positive nor overly negative. Only playing one side isn’t helpful to the designer.
Be honest. Now’s the time to raise questions and to call out areas that may need improvement. Saying something is working for the sake of the designer isn’t helpful.
WHEN RECEIVING critique:
Be receptive, not defensive. Be open to what is being said and remember the reviewer is there to help you.
Listen. Actively listen to the conversation. Remove anything that may be a distraction while in a critique session.
Remember what is being given. Feedback is being provided to help you improve a design. Have someone take notes for you to collect what is being provided.
Use your judgement (perception). As a designer you do not have to implement all the feedback provided at once. Some details may not be immediately relevant.
Use it (the feedback). Feedback is being provided because something in the design needs improvement. Not using the feedback is ignoring this fact.
Don’t take it personal. Remember, the feedback being provided is not focused on you as a designer, it’s focused on the work being presented. It’s just business, nothing personal.
Give a number of ways the design solves the problem.
Give a number of opportunities to improve the design.
Identify what isn’t working but leave it open to how it should be solved. Be specific. For example, “I feel the scrolling interaction is driving to much attention away from the product value the content is trying to communicate.”, not “Make the scrolling interaction more subtle.”
And never ever start out your critique with “I like…” & “I don’t like…” These are not to be spoken during critique. Keep the focus on what is working or what needs improvement. A better approach is to use “What works with this design is…”, or “What I feel still needs improvement is…” Again, be specific.