Design Critique Basics
The key points from this assignment.
- Before offering feedback, ask the other person where your input would be most helpful
- Aim to be honest, but also strike a balance between critical comments and positive observations
- When receiving feedback from others, accept it graciously — even if you disagree
Image credit: Baseline Team
Critique is an essential part of the design process. More than anything else, getting the opinion of fellow designers, other colleagues, as well as customers and end-users, will help you rapidly understand where changes are needed, and lead you to a stronger and more robust final result in a project.
But critique is also difficult. Listening to someone else list weaknesses in your work can feel demoralising, or even insulting, if you’re not used to it or not prepared for it. And offering critical feedback to others can also be challenging and awkward, with a line to tread between helpful honesty and caring for people’s feelings.
If you don’t read any further in this lesson, here’s our number one tip: ask for feedback early, and ask for feedback repeatedly. If you get feedback on something after 3 hours of work rather than 3 days or 3 weeks, you’ll be less invested in your decisions up to that point. You’ll also be in a better position to make changes, or even start over, if that’s what’s needed.
In the rest of this assignment, we’ll run through five tips that can help you embrace design critique. As you continue learning design, seek out opportunities to practise giving and receiving critical feedback.
For example, ask friends or family to take a look at some of your assignments from this course. It doesn’t matter if what they tell you is “wrong” or lacking in design understanding. The exercise will give you a chance to practise how to listen respectfully and take notes about other opinions, even when you don’t think much of them.
Finally, look for opportunities to practise giving feedback to others in an honest but caring way. You can join our free Slack workspace and post to the #get-feedback channel.
5 design critique tips
1. Clarify the parameters before beginning
Before starting, make sure that the purpose of feedback is made explicit, whether you’re giving or receiving critique. For example, someone might ask for feedback on a project when the deadline is 3 hours away, and they would only be able to make minor changes. It’s important to understand that so that you can offer comments that are relevant and actionable for the situation that person is in.
2. Establish rapport and mutual trust
Critique is much less likely to go badly if it occurs within a relationship of trust and respect. A misconception here, though, is that trust and respect can only be achieved in working relationships that are long established. On the contrary: if two people go about things the right way, it is possible to establish a working level of trust and respect within minutes.
3. Be as specific as possible
Whether your feedback is positive or negative, it’s important to be specific. Comments like “It’s not quite working,” or “It’s looking great!” are unconstructive, because they don’t advance the other person’s understanding of why the design is or isn’t effective. Instead, be specific. For example, “The colour scheme here supports the interface well by making the links and buttons distinctive,” or “The layout feels busy and complicated because there isn’t much white space.” Being specific like this will allow the other person to understand what you’re responding to, and take action in appropriate.
4. Take extra care with written feedback
Emails and instant messages arrive without natural tone of voice, body language, or facial expressions. As a result, their emotional pitch can easily be misinterpreted.
Emojis emerged as an organic solution to this problem. Occasional use of emojis within a team can go a long way to easing communication and clarifying the tone and intention of a message. (However, they will often be unsuitable for communication with a client or customer, depending on the brand.)
If you think there is a risk of misunderstanding during an email or instant message discussion, it can be a good idea to meet instead, or to have a quick voice or video call.
5. Leave the door open
After you’ve finished giving or receiving feedback, it’s worth saying a thank-you (“Thanks for taking a look, those were really helpful comments!” or “Thanks for letting me review this, it’s shaping up nicely.”)
It’s also a good time to state that you’re open to further comments (“If you think of anything else, feel free to drop me a line!” or “I’d be happy to look at the next version of this, if that would be helpful.”)
Giving and receiving design critique is a core part of a designer’s work, but it’s essential to approach it with care and empathy. In the next assignment, you’ll practise requesting and receiving design feedback.
Assignment version 1.0
Last updated 7 June 2021