Conducting good design critique can do wonders for the quality of your interactive design and for your growth as a designer, but it can be hard to take an essay, or a checklist, and apply it. We think we’ve found a solution!
Most people are unsure what to look for in a design and most feel uncomfortable putting forward criticism. What if you had a pack of cards with some powerful questions on them? The cards would suggest what to say, and no one would get sore at you for reading a question off a piece of cardboard.
50 + questions
Now there is such a set of cards. I have authored and collated over 50 questions that are designed to probe and illuminate a piece of interactive design from different perspectives. Some of the questions have even been designed to trigger certain reactions or inherent abilities in the responder (there is more than one Jedi mind trick in the pack). My colleague Hilding Bengtsson has then given them the requisite graphical flourish.
The cards were sent to the printers last week. If we are lucky, they should be ready in time for our conference From Business to Buttons. If you aren’t attending the conference you can use the list of questions at the end of this essay, or you can download this pdf and print them out. Your printouts probably won’t smell, shuffle and stack as nicely as ours, but they should definitely help you to improve your design.
[Added may 2020] Robin Whittleton took the cards and whipped up a web site for them. Click and get a random card to ponder over at designcritiquecards.com
Ways to play the game
One way to use the cards is to gather a group to critique a piece of interactive design. Set a time limit and deal out a handful of cards to everyone. All of you agree to ask at least one question from the cards in your hand. That’s it. I would suggest you let the person presenting do most of the talking and thinking (for more thoughts on attitudes and techniques conducive to a fruitful design critique see my previous essay).
If no one is around, pick a card at random and attempt to answer the question on your own. Or, use them as flashcards. Some prefer to ignore the questions altogether and build card castles. That can be a great way to take your mind off your work for a while.
1. Compared to how things are today, what will be easier, simpler or more fun using this design?
2. What would you like to have with you at the end of this design critique?
3. What would you like users to remember from their interaction with your design?
4. If someone else was to take over your design, what would they change?
5. How would Apple, Google or Disney solve this?
6. Does the design reject established design patterns. How and why?
7. What in the design invites and encourages use? What would motivate your users to invest more time and attention?
8. Are there things in the design that might bore or tire your users?
9. What is your most important use case? What is your most common use case?
10. What is the most important thing in this design? In this screen? Why?
11. What are you most proud of in your design?
12. What is most interesting here? Why?
13. Does the design provide users with a clear and useful conceptual model?
14. How does this work the first time it is used? After a week? A year?
15. What in your design helps users learn how to use it?
16. How would you like your design to be perceived (e.g. perceived as secure, simple, fast, flexible, powerful, polished, fun, wild etc.)?
17. What expectations do users have? What expectations does the design give rise to?
18. How well does the design scale?
19. What stands in the way of the most important use cases?
20. What makes this design unique?
21. Are there things that could be solved visually, rather than through interaction, and vice versa?
22. Are users familiar with the terms and concepts used in the design?
23. Does the user know what to do? When they have done something, do they understand what happened?
24. Is the design making assumptions that excludes certain types of users (e.g. assumptions about gender, beliefs, knowledge, culture)?
25. What happens when things go wrong? What could prevent this from happening?
26. Which parts of the design are you most uncertain about? Why?
27. If there were no limitations, what would you do?
28. If you had to remove something, what would you remove? If you had to remove something more, what would it be? Keep going.
29. How have others solved this design problem?
30. Is there some service, product, or other phenomenon, that solves a similar problem to yours?
31. What do you want the user to do?
32. How do you want the user to feel (e.g. competent, in control, in a state of flow, creative)?
33. What is the design supposed to accomplish?
34. What is your client/boss worried about?
35. Does the design take users with lower levels of sensory, motor and cognitive abilities into consideration?
36. What is working well in the design? Can it be made even better? Can it be applied elsewhere in the design?
37. How does the solution provide value for users? In what ways?
38. Which avenues, solutions and alternatives have you explored and rejected?
39. In which ways does your design contribute to reducing the negative impact on the environment and on the wellbeing of people?
40. Have you taken the context where the design will be used into consideration (e.g. location, lighting, ambient noise, other people)?
41. What reasons do users have for returning to the product or service you are designing? How often do you want them to use it? What is the ideal length of a session?
42. Is the design too bland? What would happen if it was more polarising? What would happen if you excluded some groups of users?
43. What would happen if this was bigger/smaller, faster/slower? What would happen if you rearranged the order of things? What would happen if you removed the most important part?
44. What are we all taking for granted? What would be possible if the opposite of our assumption was true?
45. How does the design capitalise on our different senses? Are sights, sounds and haptics used and combined for maximum effect?
46. How do animations and transitions contribute to users’ understanding and experience of the design?
47. What are your personal goals and wishes for this design? What effect do you want to have on the world and on your users?
48. What would you do differently if you could start again from scratch?
49. What would be a showstopper for your users? How could this be prevented from happening?
50. What would surprise your users and exceed their expectations?
51. What theme or key idea runs through your design? How could you make that theme or story clearer?
52. What activities or services is your design competing with? If your users don’t use this design what do they do instead?
53. Are we doing the right thing right now?
Thanks to everyone at inUse who gave me feedback or suggested additional questions. And a big thank you to Hilding Bengtsson for the fine work that he did on the cards and box.
If you would like the design critique questions in Chinese, Liu Xiaoping has graciously made a translation!