How to Give Powerful (And Effective) Design Critique

Peer review is integral to the design process and, when done right, can be invaluable and motivational. Honing your feedback skills allows you to build a culture of knowledge and experience sharing in your design teams.

In this article, we’ll show you how you can give designers feedback that will help them polish their design skills, strengthen their design process, and motivate them to produce better work.

Why Feedback Is Important

Why Feedback Is Important

Design is a collaborative process, which is why it’s incredibly important that you’re able to give your team of designers clear direction and useful feedback that will help them on a personal level and a team level. Learning directly from peers allows designers to expand their horizons and be able to objectively identify design flaws they might have overlooked.

Effective design feedback sessions motivate designers to improve their work and help them understand what they need to do. In simple words, good feedback is actionable and descriptive. As a design leader, your goal should be to get the designer to understand why you like or dislike their design and know what to do with the feedback you’ve given them.

5 Tips for Giving Powerful (And Effective) Design Critique

5 Tips for Giving Powerful (And Effective) Design Critique

Giving design feedback can get awkward for both you and your design team. Here, we’ll share five tips for giving better design critique that’ll leave designers feeling motivated to improve their work.

#1: Lead With Questions

Start the feedback session off by asking clarifying questions. The purpose of asking questions is to understand the designer’s thought process better and establish a framework to give feedback.

Design teams that follow agile design principles run a few critique and feedback sessions as part of their design process to be able to improve their work early on. For this reason, understanding where the designer is in their design process is key. Many times, designers make certain design decisions based on past experiences, and it’s important to be on the same page before you begin critiquing their work.

Here are some questions you might consider asking the designer:

  • Where are you in the design process? What have you completed and what’s left?
  • What are your objectives in connection to [specific design element/design decision]?
  • What is the purpose of adding this [specific design element] in [website area]?

#2: Talk About the Positives

As a design team leader, you’ve probably heard of the sandwich technique for giving feedback. It’s a popular, three-step method in which you start off by praising the design, offer corrective design feedback, and follow up with more praise. The main idea behind sandwiching feedback between two layers of praise is that starting and ending on a positive note softens the impact of the critique.

Sharing what you like about the design enables the designer to see what’s working. And, sometimes, understanding what works helps designers better understand what doesn’t work.

You can also tweak the sandwich feedback technique to make connections where possible. For instance, you might say something like: I like how you’ve added labels to your links that appear on mouse hover to improve accessibility and usability. I think marking required form fields instead of relying solely on color would also improve accessibility for color-blind users.

Pro tip: Approach corrective design feedback in the passive voice. So, instead of saying Why did you choose to add this image?, say Why was this image chosen for this [website area]?

#3: Think About the User’s Perspective

Designers, developers, and, sometimes, even your clients can’t best represent the end users.

Always keep the end user’s point of view and their specific goals in mind when you’re providing design feedback. Finding the right balance between your own design expertise, the user’s perspective, and the client’s requirements can be tricky.

Let’s look at an example: if the goal of the landing page is to get the user to sign up for a subscription, you’ll want to make sure a subscription form or call to action button appears early in the flow, e.g. above the fold.

#4: Offer Directional Suggestions

Infusing detail into your design feedback by giving examples, alternative ideas, and directional cues helps the designer understand what they need to do to improve the design.

For instance, saying something like: The buttons need to pop more isn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, you might advise the designer to try out a different color palette or show them examples of buttons that you feel have enough pop.

#5: Provide Objective, Data-Backed Feedback

Good design feedback should align with the brand (or project) goals, which is why your like or dislike of a design should somehow be tied to a clear understanding of what the design is trying to accomplish.

Before giving any design feedback, take a step back and ask yourself if the feedback is objective or purely opinion-based. Data-based feedback is often grounded in tangible studies and resources like:

  • The client’s user behavior research and/or case studies.
  • Your design system’s principles.
  • Information collected from usability testing.

What to Do After the Design Critique Session

What to Do After the Design Critique Session

Design feedback is a process, and it doesn’t shouldn’t end when the critique session is over. Instead, you should follow up with the designer after the feedback session to make sure they have a clear understanding of what they need to do and have everything they need to get it done.

Here’s what you should do after the feedback session:

Remembering design feedback can be difficult – especially if it’s very specific. Give the designer notes about the changes they need to make so that they’re able to execute on the feedback you provided.

Pro tip: Let the designer know you’ll give them notes after the feedback session. This way, they’ll focus on what you have to say instead of worrying about remembering everything you discussed verbatim.

Setting a timeline for when they need to make the changes helps keep designers motivated and may even encourage them to ask for clarification on certain feedback points. You might even consider scheduling a follow-up feedback session after the designer has made the changes you requested to see if there’s more room for improvement.

Conclusion

Giving (and getting) design feedback can be awkward. By following the tips we shared above, you’ll be able to make feedback sessions more effective while reducing lengthy design iterations.

Are you guilty of giving poor design feedback? And if you’re a designer, what’s some of the least helpful design feedback you’ve received? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

Collaboration Tools for Giving Design Feedback

ProofHub

ProofHub is a project management software that offers real-time collaboration and quick feedback sharing. It comes with a number of markup tools that you can use to highlight areas in the project that need improvement and add annotations to them. ProofHub also lets you manage calendars, track time and assign tasks to team members.

Red Pen

Red Pen is a design collaboration tool that features an interactive user interface designed for quick feedback. Designers can use it to explain the thinking process that went into a particular design and receive feedback from team members. The standout feature on offer with Red Pen is that it keeps track of design iterations through versioning.

zipBoard

zipBoard lets you upload images, screenshots, HTML prototypes, and PDF documents or share a website URL to gather feedback on it from the design team. It allows design teams to annotate and add feedback to the design file and assign tasks to team members directly from the comments thread.

Rich Staats

Written by Rich Staats

Founder and chief slacker at Secret Stache Media. Rich’s entrepreneurial passion is focused on marketing and technology, and he feels most comfortable when serving as a liaison between the two worlds.