3 Rules for Better Design Critique

A Cheatsheet for the Whole Team

Zac Halbert

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As the sole product designer for a tiny startup called Samahope, I often require design critique from my non-design teammates. Getting formal critique is important to iteratively improve the product, but we’ve had to improvise without an in-house design team.

By providing a bit of structure with 3 simple rules, I’ve found my team to be awesome critique partners. The critique sessions look a little bit different than getting a bunch of designers together (fewer turtlenecks, for instance), but the outcome is just as good.

Rule 1 — Understand the project goals

Start the critique by framing the goals of the project, or the problem we’re attempting to solve together. This helps everyone prioritize feedback that will further the project goals rather than focusing on individual pet peeves.

Rule 2 — Always start with questions

Never presume to know the why behind a design decision. Whether you love it or hate it, ask the designer why they did what they did. The goal is to get better at solving problems as a team. Understanding the designer’s thought process will enable everyone to pick up where the designer left off, and carry that thinking forward.

Additionally, don’t design solutions for the designer unless they ask for ideas. It’s preferable to suggest boundaries to explore within.

Rule 3 — Feedback sandwich

A bit cliche, but still valuable: start with what you like before going into what can be improved. Different people have varying degrees of skin thickness, but if you’re human — you probably have an aversion to rejection by a group of your peers. Starting with the positives helps everyone in the group understand what you think should be preserved while other elements are rethought, and it helps the designer stay open to your feedback. If you can’t think of something positive to say, then you’re not trying hard enough (or you need more coffee).

Better solutions together, faster

Remember that the goal of critique is to produce better solutions faster, not praise or criticize one individual’s contributions. For more in depth reading on the topic, I’m a fan of the Google Ventures process.

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