How to Set Up a Successful Design Critique

Lisanne Binhammer

Lisanne Binhammer

Senior Product Designer

October 4, 2019

We’ve all been in those critiques—you know the ones, everyone stares at the screen in awkward silence trying to come up with some sort of feedback. If you’re the person presenting, you leave those critiques feeling more confused, with too little or too much feedback to actually move your work forward. 

And if you’re the person watching the presentation, you often feel uncertain: Did I just waste an hour of my time? Was I actually helpful in there? And perhaps even: How is this applicable to my work?

Running a successful design critique can be a challenge. At Connected, we’ve tried many different approaches to running our critiques, and what we’ve found is that a successful critique boils down to one critical factor: You need to hunker down and do some upfront legwork. This how-to guide will help you through that legwork, until setting up a critique is as breezy as downloading yet another Sketch plug-in (that you’ll definitely use, you swear).

The Steps

Step One: Understand your goals (and non-goals)

First, ask yourself: What are the goals of my critique? What am I hoping to accomplish? Here, the more specific you can be, the better. Maybe you want feedback on some sketches you’ve created which show the onboarding flow onto a podcast platform. Your goal for this critique could be to establish whether or not the steps in this flow feel intuitive in understanding how the platform works. 

Or, maybe you’ve created two different styles of drop-down menus for your e-commerce site, and are looking to decide on which one best suits your product’s brand. A goal for this critique could be to simply choose between the two—and then to discuss ways in which the menu fits into your overall style guide. 

When you are thinking about goals, it’s useful to think about non-goals as well; what don’t you want feedback on? Perhaps you haven’t finalized the copy with your copywriters, so you’d prefer your peers to not get sidetracked on language.

Step Two: Identify the best style of critique for you

Next, take a look at the goals you’ve created and decide what type of critique will help you to best meet those goals. If your goal is around establishing whether or not a flow feels intuitive, silently annotating an InVision project might be the way to go. Or, if your goal is UI-centric, you might want your audience to silently write feedback on sticky notes (pro tip: a silent critique can help your peers to really concentrate on your work). 

Whether you decide on a silent, discussion-based, or interactive critique (e.g. doing a run-through of your voice skill’s sample dialogue out loud with a partner), it’s best to really tailor the type of critique you’re running with those goals, and get creative with how you get your feedback.

Step Three: Choose the right people to be your critiquers

Now that you’ve figured out the why, the what, and the how, you need to figure out who you want to attend your critique. It can be just one or two people; a smaller audience is typically better as fewer voices can inspire a more productive conversation. If you are looking to get a larger group of people to look at your work, you can run the same critique more than once—just rotate your audience. 

Additionally, it can be highly beneficial to invite people from different disciplines. At Connected, product designers might give feedback on interview protocols, or engineers might give feedback on user flows. Or, maybe there’s a salesperson who can act as a subject-matter expert. 

Casting a wide net ensures that the products you are designing are looked at both critically and holistically. When you decide who you want to invite, it’s key to remember that you are making up an invite list of equal critics. During feedback sessions, we often hear from the loudest voices in the room, or only take into account the opinion of the people who are the most senior. Make sure that everyone has the chance to be heard—what we refer to as the “equal critic” mentality.

Step Four: Give your audience some context before the meeting

It can be helpful for your audience to walk into the critique with a solid foundation of where you are coming from. In simple terms: Give your audience some context before the meeting. 

However, it is important to be mindful of not overwhelming your audience with too much information—give them just enough that they will actually have the chance to peruse beforehand and so that they understand your design decisions. Sometimes just a few design principles that your product follows can be enough.

Step Five: Evite your critiquers and assemble your critique-support team

Once you’ve figured out what to do, how to do it, who to bring in, and what foundation-setting you need to do, you can bundle everything up into an evite (or Slack message, if you’re just hoping to grab someone on the fly!). You might send out an evite that outlines the agenda of the critique, its goals, any foundational-setting, and the actual design work included as an attachment. 

Depending on the number of individuals you are inviting, it might also be useful to tag in a peer as a note-taker at this point, so you can focus on listening to the feedback. 

And finally—also dependent on number of invitees—it can be useful to ask someone to act as a facilitator for your critique. That is, someone who can help you to time manage, move through not-so-relevant conversations, and encourage the aforementioned “equal critic” mentality while you present your work.

By ticking all of these boxes you’ll be able to set up a successful critique. And at the end of the day, if you really want to improve the product that you are working on—as well as your own skills of presenting and collaborating—running a successful critique can be a critical step to success.

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