Whether it’s hearing comments from a client or contributing to a design critique with colleagues, receiving and offering feedback is a crucial part of any good designer’s daily work.
The most effective people in our industry know that cultivating feedback skills is key to improving their own design work and enhancing their team’s creative output.
However, even when we recognize the value of critique, we can often still be reluctant to give and receive feedback. Particularly as students, we might worry that we will express ourselves in the wrong way when offering feedback on others’ work. Or equally, putting our work on display might make us feel judged, or we might be afraid of having to let go of our favorite ideas. We deal with some of these issues in our piece on how to give and receive design critique well.
One thing that it’s important to remember is that giving and receiving feedback is a collaborative activity, not a one-way street. Critique works best when everyone involved is committed to realizing a project and allowing it to meet its goals. And practically speaking, one of its big advantages is that designers can simply save a lot of time, since inviting the perspectives and ideas of others often empowers us to move away from unsuccessful ideas more quickly.
Over time, engaging in critique also makes us better listeners and more articulate colleagues. By cultivating feedback skills, as designers we also gain a better understanding of when and how to compromise for the sake of visual or technical requirements. What’s more, we become better equipped to communicate with clients or others who may not have a design background or know “design-speak”.
That said, giving valuable feedback can sometimes feel like an elusive process. To supplement our checklist on how to give critique, we’ve put together a checklist below on what to look out for when you’ve been asked to give feedback on someone’s work.
Create the right conditions for critique.
1. Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect.
While we may have the best intentions internally, it's important that we manifest mutual respect outwardly through our body language and choice of words. In another article from last year, we explain why it’s important to talk about the work and not the person—in particular, limit how often you say “you” to help the other person feel relaxed and open up.
2. Clarify the goals for the work.
Before launching into critique, asking the other person to explain their goals for the project. This can reveal what kind of feedback will be most helpful for them, and can help to avoid that awkward situation of the critique veering away from the person’s goals and losing relevance.
3. Acknowledge your subjectivity.
Approaching feedback with curiosity impacts creative output and potential in measurable ways. As this Harvard Business Review article puts it, work—especially creative work—greatly benefits from early feedback that acknowledges “that your opinion is exactly that: an opinion.” This seemingly simple act gives space and flexibility by suggesting that “opinions provide potential trajectories a creative worker might try—not the ‘right’ road to take.”
4. Reframe your suggestions as questions.
Prescribing solutions right away can feel overly authoritative or run the risk of imposing your own aesthetic biases. Instead, try asking questions about the work to gain more insight about the thinking process behind it. Your questions can help empower the other person to consider alternatives and explore different solutions in their next iteration.
Assess the application of visual principles.
5. Overall tone.
What do you notice first about the work? Does it feel cheerful, serious, playful? Does this align with the work’s goals? If not, what open (“generative”) questions might help spur solutions?
6. Visual hierarchy.
How is the content arranged? What visual elements do you see first? Does your eye travel from highest to lowest priority content? (Check out these pieces on the Gutenberg Diagram and F or Z patterns.) If the hierarchy isn’t working, how could the application of other visual principles help lead to a solution?
Do elements align as expected? Is there a clear structure without having to use lines to find it? For instance, the sites for the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn and Standard Bed Sizes offer fantastic, clear examples of grid-based alignment.
8. White space.
Does the use of white space enhance visual hierarchy and help users to understand how information is laid out? Does it draw attention to what should be accentuated? Would you recommend any adjustments of the space around images, between text and letters, or between columns? For strong examples, take a look at how Medium and Kinsta use white space in elegant ways.
9. Proximity and grouping.
Generally, visual elements that are close together are perceived as being related to each other. It’s therefore important to create visual “blocks” to communicate information in a structured way. Is this principle used effectively? Is the spacing within and between blocks consistently and logically applied? See how Tapwater use spacing and grouping to create structure.
Does the color palette work aesthetically while also meeting the work’s goals in terms of tone and feeling? For example, bright, pure colors tend to be associated with energetic or playful tone, while washed out or dark colors can convey a serious or professional tone. Check out our tips for building harmonious color palettes.
Is the design visually consistent, in terms of its use of fonts, sizing, shapes, color, buttons, labels, etc.? About the benefits of this principle, digital designer Anton Nikolov writes, “usability and learnability improve when similar elements have consistent look and function in similar way.”
Consider usability principles.
12. Calls to Action (CTAs).
Whether it’s a poster, an app, or an alarm clock, most pieces of design call on the user to take some kind of action. Are the calls to action clear in this project? Are they displayed in a logical and prominent place? For ideas about creating user-centric CTAs, check out these examples from Hubspot.
13. Coherence and narrative.
Good user experience should resemble a story, revealing a coherent narrative both from a high-level perspective and within each component of the experience. For instance, if a product is aimed at someone in their forties, but the persona for the UI design was someone in their twenties, then the overall experience will be less coherent.
• For research deliverables, is the focus on the users’ pain points, goals, and needs (or Jobs To Be Done)? If necessary, what other questions or data could be gathered?
• For definition deliverables (e.g. personas, flows, sitemaps, etc.), do they line up with the research and offer a clear idea of what the project will look like? For example, does the sitemap highlight the pages that will be designed? Are the personas clear enough to remember and do they have specific, distinctive roles (vs. solely a difference in demographics, for instance)?
14. Design patterns and conventions.
As this Creative Bloq article notes, we are hard-wired to look for patterns, whether it’s the shapes in clouds or even where patterns don’t necessarily exist. For this reason, design patterns are a designer’s friend and offer “reusable solutions to usability problems,” which saves time since users instantly recognize them and these patterns clearly communicate about a design’s function and intent.
Are design patterns used appropriately in this project? For instance, tabs are typically used as a way to change views within the same context. If a tab, however, forces the user to navigate to a completely different area, the tabs will feel confusing rather than facilitate access to content. Check out popular pattern libraries and conventions, such Material Design for Android and Human Interface Guidelines for iOS.
15. Dynamic UX.
Industry trends and device capabilities change over time, impacting user needs and behaviors. Is the design approach flexible enough to accommodate change? Is content easily updated and scalable? How would a heading look if it had 30 words instead of 3? How would the image placeholder look with different images in different color schemes? What happens if there are 50 items in a shopping cart? Is all the important information equally visible on different devices?
16. Main cases and edge cases.
Although an edge case is rare by definition, once the main flow has been identified, edge case flows should also be considered. Are the main tasks easy to accomplish, with as few clicks as possible? What happens if you do something “wrong”, like entering the wrong password or adding more items to your cart than are in stock? Is the handling of main and edge cases informed by the user research and personas behind the project?
Have the needs of all user groups been considered? For example, is the text too small for a visually impaired user? Do the color combinations enhance readability and user experience, especially for people with different types of color blindness? For an example of user-centered design that takes into account colorblind users, take a look at how Gap’s filter includes a text label beside each color.
Download the checklist
To help you offer feedback to fellow students and colleagues, check out our 17-point design critique checklist, available to download for free as a PDF.
Questions about design feedback or how to run a critique? Just let us know in the comments, or send us a tweet!
Thanks for reading!
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