A practical guide to running effective design critiques

Written by David Royer and Suelyn Yu

Have you ever left a design critique feeling defeated and less excited about your work? Or frustrated because you didn’t get the type of feedback you were looking for?

Learn how to run more effective design critiques that:

  1. Provide useful feedback to improve the design
  2. Leaves you feeling revitalized and excited to improve the design

3 critique roles

1. Presenter

The presenter is the primary designer who created the work. Her job is to provide the necessary context and content for the critique. Mike Monteiro has great books, articles, and workshops on effectively presenting work.

  • Share your goals for the critique session
    “My goal for the critique session is to get feedback on the overall flow so I can make improvements before user testing on Friday.”
  • Share design goals
    “The primary goal of my new design is to encourage more users to save their payment information so they can easily donate more in the future.”
  • Provide context
    “The user will be coming to this page from either an email or a home page. 80% of users will be seeing this for the first time.”
  • Walk through the designs and explain rationale
    “I placed account creation right below payment information because users will be in the mindset of automatically filling out all the fields.”
  • Take notes while receiving feedback

2. Facilitator

The facilitator enables the presenter to have a successful critique by enforcing the guidelines below. If there aren’t enough people to have a dedicated facilitator, the presenter can play the role of the facilitator after the present.

  • Focus people on the critique and design goals
    “Let’s remember now that Alice is looking for feedback on the overall flow before user testing, not detailed visual feedback right now.”
  • Suggest not-relevant discussions be into a parking lot
    “That’s great feedback on the navigation, but the presenter isn’t looking for feedback on right now so let’s put that in the parking lot.”
  • Keep an eye on time
    Since we only have 30 minutes left, let’s move onto giving feedback for the next concept.”
  • Promote equal participation
    To someone who hasn’t spoken up: “Alex, do you have any feedback or thoughts?”

3. Critiquers

The critiquers are 3–4 people (other designers, engineers, product managers) that provide feedback on the design to help the presenter achieve her design goal.

  • Ask clarifying questions 
    “What were you trying to achieve with the placement of this line of copy above the button?”
    “I’m curious how many people pay with Paypal vs. a credit card?”
  • Talk in terms of tradeoffs
    “By adding in extra fields to save your information, it might be harder for users to make one-time donations.”
  • Empathize with the presenter
    “I understand you used that button to be consistent with other pages, but on this page, I’m concerned that it doesn’t feel like the primary call to action.”
  • Be specific about what’s working and not working
    Whats’ working: “Defaulting the checkbox seems like a great solution to get people to save their payment information.” 
    What’s not working: “When you place the fields side by side users might miss the second field in a mobile view.”
  • Speak in term of the user’s point of view & project goals
    “If the goal of the project is to encourage more people to save their credit card information, you may want to move that earlier in the flow so more users can save their information.”
  • Provide directional suggestions, but avoid problem solving
    “You may want to explore moving it earlier in the flow, or adding copy to explain the benefits. Let’s sketch out options later today.”
  • If you have any feedback or ideas beyond the scope of feedback requested, write it down and discuss after the critique.

Critique formats

Here are two different critique formats that maximize the time people can provide feedback and minimize the time spent on tangents.

Format 1: Presentation

How it works: The presenter starts by setting context, then walks the group through her designs, ideally pinned up on a board. When the presenter is talking, the critiquers write feedback on stickies and hold comments (unless they have clarifying questions). Afterward, cluster the stickies on the designs and discuss the feedback.

When to use this: Anytime during the design process, but especially on early concepts. Good for complicated designs that need more context and explanation.

Format 2: Go in blind

How it works: Critiquers start by reviewing the designs, printed copies or usable prototypes, and writing feedback on stickies without listening to the presenter’s design rationale. Afterwards, they can ask the presenter questions and discuss their feedback with the presenter.

When to use this: Good for remote teams, when the concept is further developed, when the concept is better explained with a prototype.

Critique poster

We put this poster up in our critique area to share with new team members and remind ourselves of the guidelines.

Poster created by Jim Jones