Amlan Sarkar

How to make the most of a design critique session

‘Make the logo bigger!‘; ‘It just doesn’t feel right’; ‘Could you try something else?’; ‘It’s not edgy enough!’. How many times have you heard these statements being used? If you are in the design field, chances are, far too often. So what do these statements actually mean & why do we need to discuss them? In this article, we at Team Codesign look at how and why one needs to make the most of a design critique session.

A Design… What Now? A design critique. It is a systematic form of analysis aimed at improving a design. It is essentially a discussion between client and creator ensuring that a certain design has met its desired expectations.
So how does this differ from a feedback session? To put it simply, the goal of a feedback session is to receive approvals on a design. A critique in contrast focuses solely on improving the end product.

How to approach a design critique session

Human beings are social creatures. No matter how isolated we choose to be, directly or indirectly, we always seek validation from others. Whether it is the marks you achieved in an examination or the number of likes your selfie gained. Everything we do today requires some degree of collaboration. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how we should approach a design critique session.

Business Goals: Designs are created in order to help businesses achieve a certain goal. This could be something as simple as promoting an event or something a little more complex such as generating leads. Before beginning a design critique session, it is important to reiterate the business goals, and the problems the design needs to solve.

User Goals: Designs are also created keeping in mind a certain user. Go back to the customer personas created. Why will a person use your product and how does the design facilitate this usage? Keeping in mind the target audience will help you understand if your design has met its objectives.

Constraint Check: Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Apart from resource constraints, there could be a number of other limitations on a particular design. It is necessary to understand the context in which the design was created.

Project Schedule: When getting everyone on the same page about the project schedule, make sure they understand the importance of the set deadlines. At the same time, be sure to keep some buffer time in hand. Also, clarify the scope of work for the project and individual responsibilities.

Fidelity Expectations: Fidelity refers to the level of details and functionality built into a prototype. The fidelity expectations differ at different stages of a design project. For example at the beginning of the project may be all you need is the wireframes, while towards the end of the project you may want to see the prototype with almost all its design assets in place. Depending on where you are in the project make sure your fidelity expectations are clearly set before a design critique session.

The Importance of a Design Critique Session: A large part of marketing strategies today are focused on the visual aspect of a business. Therefore, businesses need to convey their requirements clearly to designers, and designers in-turn need to be able to express the business’s message through their artwork.
As you can tell, both parties should have excellent communication skills. However, that is rarely a reality. Of all the reasons for miscommunication between clients and designers, mindset is perhaps the biggest contributor.
Both sides often assume that the other doesn’t wish to understand them. Designers believe clients don’t comprehend creative liberties; and clients believe that designers don’t understand business restrictions. We at Team Codesign have decided to break it down, for both.

Effective ways for a client to approach design critique session:

As a client, you need to ensure you get the best possible returns from the design while maintaining its aesthetic appeal. Here are a few tips to get you started when approaching a design critique session.

Use a Filter: When you look at a design, it is tempting to react immediately and say the first thing that comes to mind. And while that might be alright when you’re choosing something for yourself, it might not be as useful when choosing something for your target audience.
So, no matter what your personal feelings about the design are, think about how your audience may react to it. Give the designer feedback only once you have mulled over this. Your inputs should be concise, clear, and relevant to the context.

Don’t Assume: If the design you see differs from what you asked for, ask why. For example, maybe you wanted your company logo on the top-right corner, but its position has now changed. Instead of assuming, ask the designer why s/he placed it in the new position.
More often than not, there is a good reason for it. Perhaps the initial placement of the logo distracted from the main message. When you show trust, you will be able to understand the true reasoning behind the designer’s actions.

Don’t Invite Yourself: In your eagerness to complete the project, remember, nobody likes being disturbed midway through their work. Set a date & time for the critique session well in advance. This allows both you and the designer to be well-prepared, ensuring better results from the final output.

Lead with Questions: Asking questions doesn’t just lead to direct answers, they also give you insights into the designers’ thought process. Questions open-up the design to conversations. They show the designer that you are inclined to understand them, as opposed to just imposing your views on them.

Talk about Strengths: Critique is not the same as criticism. A critique is an analysis, and both the positives & negatives need to be discussed. If you don’t mention the positive aspects of the design, they may be removed completely in an effort to accommodate other feedback.
Apart from that, discussing only the negatives may demotivate the designer. One way to include positives in your critique is to use the sandwich method where the bread is praise and criticism is the filling.

Effective ways for a designer to approach a design critique session

In the world of marketing, it is not enough to have good looking designs. Your designs need to sell the product and appeal to the target audience. So how do you take feedback from someone who typically doesn’t speak your language? Team Codesign gives you a few pointers.

Get Feedback at Every Step: While you may know what works creatively, remember you need to keep the business objectives in mind. So, instead of unleashing your inner Picasso all in one go, get feedback at every step. This will reduce the number of iterations and keep you on the right track.

Give Limited Options: Ever heard of paralysis by analysis? It is a situation where you overthink all your options and end up not being able to choose any. Trust us, this happens more than you would expect. So, when showing your client options, keep them limited.

Take Notes: Taking notes provides two advantages. The first, of course, is that they give you a ready reference of the highlights of your critique session. The second, is that they allow you to actively focus on the crux of the critique. Conversations during critique sessions can digress but taking notes will help you keep them on track.

Don’t Take it Personally: When you put your heart and soul into a project, it’s difficult to look at criticism objectively. We get it. Unfortunately, design is highly subjective and just because someone doesn’t appreciate a certain aspect of it, doesn’t mean you are being attacked. Being passionate about your work is important, but you also need to be aware that sometimes that passion can come in the way of progress.

Defend your Decision, but Don’t Argue: Once again meaning, don’t take it personally. Yes, you need to explain to the client the reasoning behind your work but you also need to stay open to suggestions. The simplest way to do this is to think of design as a collective effort, where everyone’s insights are required.

As you can see, design critique is an imperative part of the design process that comes from mutual understanding & collaboration. At Team Codesign, we are constantly looking to improve and refine the way we approach design, and we hope this guide helps you do the same.
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