The designer has presented their masterpiece; they anticipate feedback; you were awaiting it; the deadline nears. You look at it with high hopes, and… see something very unexpected.

Unfortunately, you don’t like it and can not accept it that way. It doesn’t align to the product vision, nor to the business goals. You just can’t use this design for your product.  

So how do you express the need for something very different to the designer? How can you give a powerful design critique?

The team comprises one of the most important things in your work: these people surrounding you, and the relationship with them. Through collaboration we can gather the best ideas and a solution, and pull down all the barriers.

This article will give some help on how to discuss design with a designer or team, based on the book by Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor, Discussing Design.

 

design critique

Why is feedback important?

On a personal level, we all know we are feedback addicts. We need to see if what we do has an effect in the world, in our loved one’s life, in our professional development. We do things to get some kind of result, so feedback presents one way to see achievement.

On a team level, think about why we are working in a team, if not for collaboration. Design critique lies at the core of great collaboration. Honesty binds people together. And it comes with feedback – not just shiny, fluffy, positive pap, but hard truths: a critique.

On a business level, a good feedback system will help you reach business objectives for a product. Consequently, if a designer deeply understands the objectives, they’ll be able to create something to support them.

On the other hand, when a designer gives feedback, they can greatly inspire innovation. And once you understand the designer’s objectives, their design decision may support the business goals better than the original ideas had.

How to give feedback

Emotional feedback

Driven by expectations, values and desires, it communicates feelings rather than clear objectives.

This sticks the process in your own mind. So imagine giving emotional feedback about the product to the designer. (Try to) argue from the user perspective…

Not even a designer, developer, PO or PM best represents the users. Therefore, their feelings and hunches do not validly argue for changing things in the design. (Use proper UX Research instead.)

Examples: “I really don’t like this shade of blue.” “The users need more information here about…”

Direction feedback

Resembling the previous, this takes a more aggressive approach, providing only instructions to the designer.

Direction feedback takes away the opportunity for two-way communication, or understanding the designer’s viewpoints or reasons behind a decision.

For example: “If I were you, I would do this…”

Constructive critique

design critique

This presents the optimal way to build collaboration and give feedback (not just) for a designer. As Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor say:

“Critique, a form of analysis that uses critical thinking, to determine whether a design is expected to achieve its desired objectives”

Critique does not react instantly. Also, it doesn’t involve feelings when seeing something (emotional feedback). Nor does it involve changing a design to better solve an issue (direction feedback).

Design critique

Design critique helps …

Building shared vocabularies

Different word usage slows work processes, but critique assures a common understanding of a word. In this way, it speeds up teamwork.

Finding a consensus

Consensus improves cooperation between teammates. It helps a team think critically about coming design needs.

Driving iteration

The agile design process is about iteration agile, so critique can help a team find what needs changing. It will also drive improvement and progress in the design.

Keep two main aspects in mind:

  • Critical thinking: The examination of the object designed against its creation objectives.
  • Delivery: How you present your critical thinking to your collaborators.

Your team will have countless discussions about design decisions. With design critique, these conversations can become intensely productive.

 

Make sure you don’t miss any steps in the product design process: download our e-book, the Product Manager’s Guide to UX Design.

 

BAD design critique is…

Selfish

Driven by personal goals. And its goal comes at the expense of the team or the designer.

So ask yourself: Are you really trying to improve the design or help someone? Or just show others your smarts?

design critique

Untimely

Feedback comes at the wrong moment. If you want the receiver (designer) to listen openly to what you want to say, say it at the right time. Avoid giving a critique if the other person has not askd for it. That person needs to reach the proper mindset to receive your message.

Incomplete

Not explained properly: “I think the button is better than the link” or “Nobody is going to click that”. Lead the designer to why you came to this conclusion. Otherwise, it has no point. Good critique leads to action. When the feedback includes the “why” behind it, the designer can understand the problem and take action.

Preferential

Liked… but only by you. You reject a final UI because the color scheme reminds you of an ex’s Christmas gift. This does not a justify rejecting a design made not for you but for the users. This distracts the most and proves counterproductive. Love the product and appreciate the designer. Avoid this mistake.

GOOD design critique rather…

Identifies a decision in the design being analyzed: The designer put the “Cancel” and “Accept” buttons next to each other on a form.

Relates that decision to an objective or best practice: One general principle for interaction design from the usability heuristics.

Describes how and why the design decision works to support the objective (or not).

design critique

Best practices for giving a design critique:

  • Lead with questions
  • Use a filter
  • Don’t assume
  • Don’t invite yourself
  • Talk about strengths
  • Think about perspective

Lead with questions

Start by getting more information, which shows interest in their thinking and provides a basis to get feedback on. Most of the time, a story lies behind a decision. Various reasons or objectives determine why they made the design like this.

Examples:

  • Where are you in your process?
  • What can I help you with the most?
  • Why did you choose this approach for [aspect/element]?
  • Can you tell me more about what your objectives are targeting [specific aspect or element of the design]?

Use a filter

Honesty benefits from filters and reactions will come. As the designer presents the work, some things will make you think “Huh?” or “I don’t get it”. Just hold back for a second and wait until they fully explain their thoughts. Then give them analysis, not reactions.

Don’t assume

If the designer’s message does not come through clearly, ask more questions! Don’t assume; that makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”.

design critique

Avoid assumptions by simply asking questions.

Don’t invite yourself

Politely get in touch and ask to talk about the design. If a designer hasn’t explicitly asked for feedback, ask if they want any. Probably they’ll show interest, but wait for the answer to confirm their readiness. Provide them the opportunity to prepare to listen.

Talk about strengths

Critique doesn’t just address what’s not working. Neglecting the positive parts of a design may lose them. The team might erase a favourite design element if it gets no mention. Focus on the positive, not the negative.

At UX studio we often use the sandwich technique, which balances positive and negative feedback.

Think about perspective

Don’t forget: you are not the users. When giving a design critique, remember perspective. Analyzing a design, remember to balance your expertise against the user’s perspective, no matter how hard it proves. Ask: “How am I looking at this?”

 

This quick overview should help give proper feedback to designers. Have experience in giving feedback? Did a designer or teammate get hurt when you only wanted to help? Your experience really interests us, so please share!

Happy critiquing to the whole team! 🙂

 

Oh, and one more thing: there is an additional reading for you! Check out our Product Design book! Free worldwide shipping is just a cherry on top. 😉