Are You A Design Critique Hero or Villain?

How to use “hero and villain” profiles to guide design feedback

Maggie Buck Armstrong
Feb 15 · 6 min read

Co-written by Chrysan Tung and Maggie Buck Armstrong


We’ve all been there. You spend weeks agonizing over your work. You think through every scenario and option.

Now, it’s time to get feedback from the team…

Designer 1: “I’m confused.”
Designer 2: “Yeah, I don’t like it.”
Designer 3: “You should do a notification instead.”

Exhibit A, Designer after a rough critique

And now, it’s time for your soul to suffer a thousand deaths.

Recently, we’ve been using feedback “profiles” to illustrate how critique can be helpful or hurtful. We call them “Good Feedback Heroes” and “Bad Feedback Villains.”

In an offsite, we shared these Hero and Villain profiles with our team and role-played a design critique. In addition to being downright hilarious, using profiles made the activity more lighthearted and less personal. We saw how easy it can be to slip into villain-mode, even when we had the best intentions!

In this article, we hope in sharing these Feedback Heroes and Villains, you’ll be better equipped to give empowering feedback and save others from the cube of shame.

As always, let us know what you think! Do you have any tips or principles for making your design crits better? Reach out by connecting on LinkedIn

Chrysan: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrysantung/
Maggie: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maggiebuckarmstrong/

Introducing the Bad Feedback Villains

  1. Sentimentalist
  2. Interruptapotamus
  3. Solutionizer
  4. Weak spot sniper
  5. Vague-a-mort

1. Sentimentalist

Sentimentalist expresses personal sentiment — how they feel or how much they like something. Oftentimes with no reason why.

In the wild:
Designer: What do you think about this new animation?
Critiquer 1: I love it!
Critiquer 2: I strongly feel like I don’t like it.
Critiquer 3: I personally feel like the other one is better

Can be found saying: “I feel…,” “I like…,” “I don’t like…,” “In my personal opinion…”


2. Interruptapotamus

Interruptapotamus interrupts while the designer is sharing. Fond of spontaneity and going off topic.

In the wild:
Scene: The designer has finished introducing the context and the problem.
Designer: So, I’d really like feedback on —
Critiquer: I just had a thought. Have you tried doing a survey?

Can be found saying: “Can I just say something really quick?” “Sorry this might be off topic but…”


3. Solutionizer

Solutionizer offers solutions usually with good intentions. But ends up art directing rather than critiquing.

In the wild:
Scene: The Designer has finished walking through three design options for feedback.
Designer: Here are the three UI options I explored. I’d love feedback on which is the best pattern to use in this scenario.
Critiquer: Hmmm. What if you just made it a card?

Can be found saying: “Can you just…” “Here’s an idea…” “This is what I would do…”


4. Weak spot sniper

Weak Spot Sniper pinpoints all the weak spots of the designs usually until the designer feels fully defeated. Only mentions things that can be improved, without offering encouragement or positives.

In the wild:
Scene: The Designer has finished walking through their user flow.
Designer: I’d love some help evaluating the pros and cons of this user flow.
Critiquer 1: Hmm, I don’t think the user would do that. It seems like a lot of steps to go through.
Critiquer 2: Yea, that pattern is also inconsistent with the whole app.

Can be found saying: “The first thing I disagree with is…” “No no no…” “That doesn’t work…” “There’s a lot wrong with this.”


5. Vague-a-mort

Vague-a-mort murders the discussion with their vagueness. Leaves you hanging off the cliff of discernment.

In the wild:
Designer: What do you think about this interaction?
Critiquer 1: That’s interesting…
Critiquer 2: Something just feels off to me…
**Awkward silence ensues.**

Can be found saying: “That’s interesting…” “Looks good to me.” “Hmm….” “Not sure…” “[Just Silent]”


Introducing the Good Feedback Heroes

Ok, by now you’re probably on the phone with your therapist about your P.C.S.D. (Post Critique Stress Disorder) but fear not, the Feedback Heroes are here to save the day. Here are the 5 heroes we try to embody during critique to make our work and our team even stronger:

  1. Curiosaurus
  2. Focuser
  3. P.D.A. (Positive Design Advisor)
  4. Specifizer
  5. I.G.A.F. (I Give A F*ck)

1. Curiousaurus

Curiousaurus asks open-ended questions to probe and guide.

In the wild:
Designer: In this wire, I want to make sure the user can choose a level.
Critiquer 1: What’s the thinking behind using a dropdown?
Critiquer 2: Have you explored other options from our style guide?

Can be found saying: “What’s the thinking behind…?” “I wonder if…?” “Have you considered….?”


2. Focuser

Focuser focuses on the work, not on the person or personal sentiment.

In the wild:
Designer: Check out this animation I made!
Critiquer: “Nice, the animation works great in this scenario, but the speed is a little slow, which might slow down the user flow.”

Can be found saying:
“This part of the design is/isn’t working because…” “This interface/wireframe…” “I notice this fits/doesn’t fit with our current standard/patterns…”


3. P.D.A. (Positive Design Advisor)

P.D.A. begins with merits and acknowledging effort, then improvement.

In the wild:
Designer: “Here is the latest workflow for adding photos.”
Critiquer: “The multi-select is really fun! One thing to consider is legibility: have you explored different font colors for the count?”

Can be found saying: “This a great exploration. It might be stronger if…” “Yes, and…” “You’ve done a great job at [specific example]…”


4. Specifizer

Specifizer gives specific examples and articulates the reason behind critique. Often ties specific observations back to goals.

In the wild:
Designer: In this screen, the user makes their first selection…
Critiquer: Because the user can only select one option — consider using a radio button instead of a checkbox.

Can be found saying: “Because of a [detailed explanation]…” “Since the user [specific example from research/data]…”


5. I.G.A.F. (I Give A F*ck)

I.G.A.F. critiques with honesty and empathy.

In the wild:
Scene: The designer just shared a brand new sign up flow, and is getting some tough feedback.
Designer: No, I disagree. I think this is super clear for users.
Critiquer: I can see what you’re saying, I tried something similar last week. I was also surprised when it was confusing for users during testing.

Can be found saying: “I understand where you’re coming from, however…” “I experienced a similar problem, and it lead me to think…” “I hear your point, and you may be right, but…”


A new horizon for feedback

So, we know that your team isn’t the Fantastic Four. People aren’t black and white like Marvel movies, otherwise we’d kick all the Dr. Doom Solutionizers out of critique. Everyone can be a Villain from time to time, or get lazy in their feedback delivery. But perhaps in your next critique, try going the extra mile to be a Hero.

Because remember, not all heroes wear capes.

Exhibit B, A Designer at crit, getting supportive feedback from their team

Thank you for reading! What’d you think? We’re curious to know your tips or principles for making design crits better. Reach out by connecting with us on LinkedIn:

Chrysan: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrysantung/
Maggie: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maggiebuckarmstrong/

Resources

Thank you to http://uxreactions.com/ for all the gifs we borrowed!
https://medium.com/google-design/the-art-of-giving-feedback-80a6a4e2e843

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