How To Successfully Critique Design

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Let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of the review

Providing design feedback that is effective is a difficult task. Designers are tasked with coming up with creative and unique solutions, following a process that builds upon sound logic, observation and feedback to arrive at an optimal output. Sometimes when that output is rejected or changed to the point where the core of the idea is no longer present, it can be defeating.

As a stakeholder, your feedback can have a large impact on the productivity and morale of the designers that work for you. If done well, a design critique can add momentum to a project and inspire your designers to work in new ways. If done poorly, a design critique can leave your team feeling confused, unmotivated, and directionless.

This is intended to help you be the type of stakeholder that provides on-target and constructive feedback that propels a project forward.

Ask questions that are appropriate for the level of fidelity being presented

Low-fidelity designs are about establishing the general flow and mechanics of what a design will consist of. Exact spacing, copywriting, and color palette are things that should be applied later in a high-fidelity comp.

  • Appropriate for a low-fidelity wireframe: “What about the hierarchy for this page? Do we think that paragraph placed appropriately?”
  • Appropriate for a high-fidelity comp: “What will the final copy be for this paragraph?”

Ask clarifying questions

Try to understand the rationale behind a design decision before dismissing a concept all together.

  • Don’t say: “I don’t like that this is in a modal.”
  • Do say: “What were you trying to achieve by placing this content inside of a modal vs having it on the previous page?”

Talk in terms of trade-offs

There’s lot of different ways to approach solving a design problem. Very rarely is there one ‘best’ approach that doesn’t involve some kind of trade-off.

  • Don’t say: “Nobody is going to complete this form.”
  • Do say: “By adding in extra fields to save your information, it might be harder for users to make one-time donations.”

Be specific 

Organize feedback to be as clear as possible; explain what’s working and what isn’t. This helps the designer understand what elements to keep rather than throwing the whole concept out and starting from scratch, which is much more time-consuming.

  • When something is working: “Having the checkbox checked by default definitely saves a step and speed this process up.”
  • When something is not working: “Having a ‘reset form’ button near the ‘submit’ button is dangerous because it can result in users inadvertently needing to start over.”

Link feedback to goals

A design critique should not be about personal preferences. Keep your feedback objective. Think in terms of how the design meets (or misses) the customer and/or business goals. If you struggle with this, then try speaking in terms of the users’ point of view and project goals.

  • Don’t say: “This takes too long to get to the credit card form.”
  • Do say: “If the goal of the project is to encourage more people to save their credit card information, we should consider putting it in the flow earlier.”

Provide directional suggestions, but avoid problem solving

A good designer doesn’t need you to tell them what to do. They just need you to help frame the problem appropriately.

  • Don’t say: “Have you seen how I did this? A two-column layout is better.”
  • Do say: “Have you considered how a less busy grid could work in this project?”

For a quick reference, feel free to print out the following image and take it to your team's next design critique in order to provide great feedback for your designers.

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