Tips to Have a Productive Design Critique

Collaboration and craftsmanship are at the heart of what we do. Holding regular design critiques is a critical aspect of the design team culture here at Underbelly. Design critique sessions help us develop solutions we are all proud of and elevate our entire design process and outcome as a team.

Here are a few design critique tips for running and attending a good session—and presenting your work when your turn comes around.

Goals of a design critique

A successful design critique is built on a shared alignment of the goals of the critique. Understanding the desired outcome of this meeting will help everyone stay on track and make the critique effective.

  1. Unblock team members and arrive at strong solutions: This time is meant to help designers resolve questions they have about their design work. The rest of the team is there to help the presenter arrive at answers.

  2. Improve the quality of work and build shared responsibility for outcomes: We deliver a better product or service by working together. Design critiques help us not work in silos and collaborate every step.

  3. Foster a culture of collaboration & craftsmanship: Our mission statement as a company is to bring ideas to life through collaboration & craftsmanship. Design critique sessions are an excellent opportunity to jam with your peers and learn from their experience and talent.

  4. Support constructive & candid dialogue: Design critiques help everyone understand the context of the projects being worked on within their team and even the company. You can identify overlaps and connections between projects you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Having outside perspectives from people you trust can help you unblock and move forward with new ideas and solutions.

  5. Give all design team members a chance to contribute their expertise, not just senior members: Each team member was hired as an expert. Therefore, everyone has valuable input to share. Giving a time for everyone to be open and share their insights helps create shared mutual respect on the team.

The logistics of a design critique

There are a lot of logistics to consider when running a design critique. These logistical details have the potential of making or breaking the meeting. For example, if you run them too often, you could potentially be putting too much pressure on your team. This brings us to the first logistical detail of holding a design critique: frequency.

How often to hold a design critique meeting?

The answer is…it depends. It depends on how much time and energy you want your team to spend on each project iteration. If you're working on something with tight deadlines and high stakes, then it's probably best to hold design critiques more frequently than if you're working on something that has more flexibility in terms of time and resources.

In our case, we hold design critiques with the entire design team once a week. However, we highly encourage review outside of weekly meetings. Having quick offline critiques will ensure that your team is never waiting to get the feedback they need.

What technology should you use to execute the meeting?

We want to foster an inclusive environment that allows everyone to participate. We run a remote-first design critique for our hybrid team to make that happen. We use Google Meet as our video conferencing tool of choice.

The meeting rooms at our studio have a high-quality camera, speaker, and television for video conferencing. Providing high-quality video and audio makes for a positive experience for everyone involved!

Figma is another must-have when it comes to executing design critiques. Our team uses Figma to present designs (and leave feedback).

Who should attend the design critique?

We believe that design critique is an essential part of the design process. It should be attended by all internal design team members - both UX designers and visual designers. In addition, we have an open invite to product managers, project managers, and engineers involved in the projects to attend.

Tips for receiving feedback at critique

The presenter in a design critique is seeking to find answers. They share their design and state the context of their work and the problems they’re trying to solve.

  • Frame your work: Use a brief to define the problem and measure success.
  • Set the focus: Come to crit with a specific objective to help the group stay focused. If you want feedback on a particular aspect of your design work, make it clear.
  • Stay open: You're here to improve your work and that sometimes comes with outside perspectives or fresh eyes. Stay open to different ideas and explore new approaches.
  • Participate in the critique of your work: It inspires the switching from creative and critical thinking. It also separates us from work, making it easier for others to engage without getting defensive.
  • Take careful notes: Processing critique may take some time. Capture notes for later, or have someone do it on your behalf (in our case, the facilitator).

Tips for giving critique

The audience is there to help the presenter arrive at an answer. The audience states what they like about the work, provides feedback, and poses thoughts on what can be improved.

  • Lead with questions: Don't make any assumptions; explore what you don't understand.
  • Filter reactions: Write down your initial reactions as a filter to get more deliberate dialogue.
  • Acknowledge what works: Critique is about the strengths of the design decisions too. By calling out things that are working well, we can repeat our successes as a team. We can also use this positive feedback to inform our design decisions.
  • Speak from the business objectives: Remove opinions by grounding your critique in the project goals, business goals, or user's perspective.

Tips for facilitating a critique

The facilitator is responsible for keeping the meeting on task. They take notes, so the team has next steps post critique. Doing this helps keep the feedback focused and utilized.

  • Ensure context is provided: Require recipients to frame their work, the challenge they're solving, key insights, and measures of success.
  • Promote equal participation: Don't let the conversation get bylined by the most vocal. Encourage everyone to speak up.
  • Keep it focused: Don't let the group get lost in adjacent challenges or insignificant details. Keep track of time and ensure the group stays centered on the critical objective.
  • Control brainstorming: It's natural to start problem-solving, but brainstorming can eat up time and there may be a better opportunity for it at another time.
  • Capture notes and open questions: Capture the critique for the recipient to review and share with cross-functional teammates later.

We've talked about the importance of design crits, and we've given you some tips on how to run them. But the most important thing is that you're doing them.

So take this advice, understanding it’s a way to do it, not the way, and use it to make your own process better. Everyone's different, but we're all doing this for the same reason—to make better designs!

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