Using Inclusive Design Critiques to Build Better Products and Stronger Company Culture
How one team at Microsoft develops a collaborative design critique process
The design process can, at times, become a bit insular. As designers, we go through our process — problem, hypothesis, sketches, prototypes, user research — to communicate and test the thinking behind design decisions.
At the end of the day, though, our purpose is to help someone achieve their goal in a way that’s intuitive, delightful, and “just works.” Sharing work with peers in a critique is a key way to ensure we fulfill that purpose. For designers, a critique is a collaborative conversation and a shared analysis around a design solution.
Share design work across disciplines to gather diverse input
Design critiques are vital to that end goal of working towards a solution that “just works.” A key aspect is facilitating inclusive conversations across disciplines. This is a way to share your work and say, “Hey, I’ve gotten this far, what are your thoughts?”
When you share your work in a critique, designers, writers, and researchers each bring their unique skillsets and perspectives that catalyze progress towards a more perfect solution. It’s a team sport. For example, while observing a prototype of a workflow, a writer might notice a particularly clumsy call to action, a researcher might suggest a method to test which option is most effective, and a designer may notice an inconsistent interaction pattern being used. Inviting a range of experts, not just designers, to a critique is vital to the conversation and brings dimension to the design critique process. It’s also an excellent way to practice communicating your design thinking, which is an act of design all on its own.
Learn through observation at design critiques
Aside from communicating our own work, more often we act as members of the “audience” in a critique. Even if you don’t have any specific guidance to provide, just being present for the conversation and listening feeds inspiration and helps form connective tissue between your work and someone else’s — an opportunity to align. Albert Shum, Microsoft Design CVP, emphasizes these kinds of opportunities in a design system like ours:
“The designer is a conduit for cohesion, and at an enormous, global place like Microsoft, the importance of design alignment can’t be overstated. The way we design together translates into the experiences we deliver to the world.“
In the design process, critique is a conduit for cohesion. It’s an opportunity to learn, observe, and inform your work from someone else’s thinking. Even if it’s just by paying attention.
Build an inclusive company culture with design critiques
At the end of the day, the value of a critique lies in its impact on the human centered design process. Whether you’re a presenter or observer, it’s making the product more inclusive, cohesive, and collaborative. It’s the opposite of taking solutions for granted.
Over the next few months, we’ll highlight different aspects of our process from both writing and design perspectives. And in the next post, we’ll talk about accepting feedback to make the most of a critique.
How do you run your design critiques? We’d love to hear what your team does in the comments below.