Four words a designer should never hear

I never ‘like’ any of the designs the SEEK UX team show me. I never ‘dislike’ them either. It doesn’t matter whether I like or dislike designs. My visceral feelings, or those of key stakeholders and team members, towards a proposed solution are completely immaterial (you are not the user).

I’ve spoken about the SEEK UX team’s critique framework before in a previous post ‘If you want a hug, just ask’, so I won’t go over the entire space again. Instead, I want to focus on one critical aspect of creating a successful design critiquing culture — how to separate like/hate from good/bad.

Four words a designer should never hear — “I don’t like it”

When reviewing designs with the UX team, occasionally I find the phrase “I like it” coming out of my mouth. When I utter this particular phrase, I have the same reaction as I do when I ask a leading question in a research session — I cringe internally and vow never to make the same mistake again! The last thing I want to encourage designers to do is to fall into the habit of presenting their work for ego-validation by key stakeholders. Equally, we don’t want stakeholders falling into the trap of providing feedback about whether or not they personally ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a proposed solution. Instead, we want critique to focus on whether or not a proposed design is a good solution to the problem at hand. ‘Good’ in the context of a critique is a design that meets the goals of the business and the user. ‘Bad’ in the context of a critique is a design that fails the goals of the business and the user.

Most of these designs are ‘good’. They help us solve both business and user goals (some better than others). I don’t ‘like’ all of them. Some of them I ‘dislike’, but they are still ‘good’.

With this in mind, there is one key habit that we as designers (and we as stakeholders) can adopt to separate like/hate from good/bad. The key to this is setting the context at each and every design critique or review. It is important as a designer to get into the habit of re-iterating the overarching business goals and user goals every time you present your work. This context helps to encourage stakeholders to provide critique and feedback in the context of these goals, and is the first step in eliminating ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ from the conversation. Related, it is important that designers ask for feedback in terms of business outcomes. This again reinforces that good/bad design solutions are not about the ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ of anyone in the business, but are aimed to solve business problems.

‘Good’ in the context of a critique is a design that meets the goals of the business and the user, ‘bad’ in the context of a critique is a design that fails the goals of the business and the user.
How can I make this design better meet the business goals?

Good critique is a discussion & ongoing dialog about how a design is or isn’t meeting its goals. Keeping design critique at the level of ‘does this product meet our business goals?’ creates a safe space for designers to share their emerging ideas early and often. Coincidentally, sharing emerging ideas early and often gives designers, stakeholders, and teams a better opportunity to collaborate. Team members can then more rapidly improve upon proposed solutions, and importantly ensure continuing alignment on both the business goals and user goals.

When the product meets its goals and is successful everyone is successful.

So next time you find yourself about to utter that fateful phrase ‘I don’t like it’, stop and consider exactly what it is that you don’t like. Ask yourself, are your own personal opinions really relevant in the successful achievement of business and user goals?

(I’ll give you a hint, the answer is almost always ‘No’).