Our best practices for a meaningful design critique
Feedback is crucial for any creative professional. That’s especially true when it comes to design. We know that not every idea nor every design execution will be interpreted as we expected. So we need to put our work in front of team members — early and often — to get honest feedback before we spend too much time on a single idea. Our app design team has created ArcTouch’s Design Critique Best Practices — a document that guides our design critique meetings. This living document promotes constructive feedback among our team members, both for those requesting it and those giving it.
What exactly are ‘Design Critique Best Practices?’
Our Design Critique Best Practices are not intended to be a recipe or manual. And to be clear, the type of early feedback we’re after is not the same as user testing. You’ll need to test your designs and products with actual target users later (see our free ebook “A practical guide to app user testing” for more on that). Also, a design critique is not the same thing as a design review. A design critique takes place early in a project to get open feedback and improve the user experience to meet the objectives of a project. A design review happens at specific milestones during the design phase of a project with the purpose of getting stakeholders to approve it.
We typically perform design critiques as a team — sometimes as a pre-planned meeting and other times as simple as a casual Slack discussion. Design critiques can also be performed between a designer and a single colleague. Our guidelines establish a mindset and structure for reviews rather than mandate certain requirements. They maximize the value of each design critique — enabling the most useful and actionable feedback.
Our Design Critique Best Practices is a living document. We update it frequently based on what we learn from client projects and prior design critiques.
So, without further ado…
For designers: 9 best practices for getting useful design feedback
1. Share early and often
It’s never too early in a project to ask for feedback. Sometimes we don’t feel secure enough to share unpolished ideas or concepts because we are afraid of judgment. Maybe we just want to please or impress someone. Critique is about building trust, from all sides of the conversation. So trust yourself. Trust your colleagues. Share your work and ideas early and often.
As a project goes further and gets more complex, changes become more difficult and costly. So, get feedback before it’s too late.
2. Be prepared
Be mindful that people are giving you their time and attention. Come to your design critique prepared and ready to engage. You don’t need a formal presentation, but know exactly how you’re going to present your ideas. Definitely avoid wasting time sorting through folders to find different versions of your file.
3. Give context
Assume that the other person doesn’t know anything about the design or project you are sharing. Things seem obvious to you because you’re so deeply aware of your own design. But if your peer doesn’t understand your project — and the specific business goals you’re trying to achieve — you won’t get any effective feedback.
4. Maintain focus
Critique doesn’t happen “naturally.” Just like presenting to any audience, understand who you are presenting to and specifically what you want from them. Come with a clear idea for what aspect of your design you want feedback on. For example, if you’re presenting an app concept, you might want feedback on the UX flow, the screen UI, colors, the copy, or a specific feature.
Also, make it clear what is NOT the focus so your audience doesn’t get distracted.
Once you walk through your design and explain the goals and the rationale behind it, it’s time to shift from “presenting mode” to “listening mode.” Keep in mind that the more you talk, the less time there is for the feedback you need.
6. Be open
The design critique is about the project, not about you. Don’t take feedback personally. Have an open mind — and avoid argumentative, defensive responses. This is important not only for the ongoing relationship with your fellow designers but also crucial for interactions with business stakeholders.
7. Capture feedback
Hearing feedback is great, but don’t forget about actually capturing that feedback. For some designers, using Post-It notes work, but also try audio or video recording meetings, or even having someone else take notes in a shared Google doc. You’d be surprised how many great bits of feedback get lost because of poor note-taking.
8. Take action, not reaction
Not all critique is useful. You don’t need to take all the feedback and make it actionable just to please the crowd. After the meeting is over, review the notes, and determine what makes sense for your project.
Every critique is an opportunity to think critically about the principles and objectives of your design. You might even implement opposing suggestions into different versions of your design — and come back to the same audience for another round of review.
9. Follow up
Keep the conversation flowing after getting feedback from your peers. Share updates with the team — including changes made based on feedback.
For reviewers: 6 best practices for critiquing design work
1. Take your time
Reviewing is caring. Avoid sharing opinions just because you feel like you should say something. It’s ok to say nothing — and to listen to your colleagues’ feedback. And if you need more time to consider something — or more information — ask to come back to it later.
2. Be kind
Remember that design critique sessions are about building trust, so refrain from channeling your favorite reality show judge. Don’t discourage anyone else’s opinion. Everyone should feel comfortable giving opinions — regardless of their experience or seniority. Senior designers should act as mentors, not bosses.
3. Explain why
Critique is about analysis. Feedback, both positive or negative, should be constructive and followed by a “why.” Gut feeling alone doesn’t cut it — and being able to articulate the reason you’re offering specific feedback is crucial for the recipient. If you have data or quantitative backup from a prior project, share that, too. A designer may need a solid business reason to justify spending additional time on design changes.
4. Maintain focus
It’s tempting sometimes to give opinions about something that is not the focus of your colleague’s presentation. If you noticed something outside of the review topic or think that your input will be helpful, raise it after the design critique meeting ends. Stay focused on the specific feedback the designer is asking for.
5. Share insights, not solutions
When you’re a designer critiquing another designer, it might be tempting to offer suggestions on how to fix an issue. But for the design critique, stick to the feedback and avoid problem-solving discussions. Also, do your best to not turn a critique session into groupthink. Don’t pile on after a critique has already been stated. Offer insights based on your experiences and your unique point of view.
6. Follow up
After the critique, keep the conversation flowing. Check-in with your teammates about how the project is going. Just remember, it’s about helping them. It’s not about your ideas. So, “How’s your project going?” is a much better conversation starter than, “Did you incorporate those suggestions I gave you…?” 🙂
For everyone: Other benefits from regular design critiques
There are other benefits to making design critiques a regular part of your app design process. Including:
- Increasing collaboration and team building
- Fostering a design culture across an organization
- Taking a break from individual projects and sparking creative energy
- Learning from other team members and establishing organizational best practices
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