Ahhh, UX Design Critiques…Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a vital part of guaranteeing our designs are the best they can be.
As much as a designer wants their creation to be 100% their vision, we occasionally need outsider perspectives to help us spot flaws or reconsider user goals to ensure we’re fulfilling the product's purpose.
Though 92% of people believe constructive criticism helps them improve their overall performance, many employees (in any kind of work setting) struggle with taking and giving it. But why is that when the majority acknowledges its importance?
It all comes down to how it’s delivered. What seems constructive to the giver could be construed as pointed or downright bullying to the receiver (in vice versa).
The fact is that interpersonal communication skills influence the delivery and usefulness of our feedback. So, how can you ensure that your criticisms land just right and lead to actionable next steps?
7 Tips For Better UX Design Critiques:
- Be straightforward
- Ask for explanations
- Offer suggestions
- Link feedback to goals and KPIs
- Ask open-ended questions
- Keep critiques relegated to in-person or video meetings
- Remove your biases
Why Are Design Critiques Necessary?
UX design has a few too many moving parts for a single designer to handle on their own. Chances are that multiple team members, from interaction designers to web developers, will touch the project to ensure everything works as intended.
Even if a product requires several team members, everything has to gel together to create a cohesive experience.
By building a collaborative culture where cross-functional teams can offer diverse perspectives and keep each other aligned, critique sessions become a valuable asset in communication and risk mitigation.
In layman’s terms, design critiques (when done right) help your team feel supported and spark ongoing learning. And isn’t that what every designer wants out of their career?
Plus, the more your team shares tips and tricks with each other, the better the products will be in the long run. Through frequent critique sessions, designers and developers can continuously improve their processes and methodologies, leading to higher efficiency and cost-effectiveness (project managers, hint hint).
Why Are Critiques So Intimidating?
With as many benefits as critiques have, you may wonder “How could anyone hate getting feedback on their work?”
Listen, digital product designers are artists. And we’re a sensitive bunch! There are a few (valid) reasons why someone would be apprehensive about getting their work criticized:
- Vulnerability: Designers put a piece of themselves into their work. They fear criticism and rejection.
- Fear of Negative Feedback: Nobody likes to hear negative feedback, even when it's constructive and especially when it’s something they put their blood, sweat, and tears into.
- Imposter Syndrome: Designers may worry that their colleagues will see them as impostors. This is true for junior designers or those new to a team.
- Time Pressure: Tight project deadlines can create apprehension. Designers may worry that they won't have time to make necessary changes.
- Perfectionism: Designers often strive for perfection in their work, and critique sessions can highlight imperfections. The fear of not meeting their high standards can exacerbate insecurities.
Critique sessions should be a safe space where everyone can share thoughts and not feel judged. The goal is to create an environment where no idea is a bad idea, kind of like an initial brainstorming session.
But how can you manage a collaborative critique session (where nothing’s off the table) and still remain productive?
Setting Up Your Critique Session
Organizing a smooth critique session requires a lot more than just gathering participants. To keep things moving, the meeting organizer should limit the number of participants to the project team and a few design leads. A smaller audience allows people to focus on the big picture and leave space for everyone to share their thoughts.
Unfortunately, critiques can’t always be intimate affairs between close colleagues. So whether your meeting involves a select few or the entire organization, here’s what you can do to facilitate a structured, productive session:
- Define Clear Objectives: Begin by establishing goals. What specific aspects of the design are you seeking feedback on? What are the desired outcomes? Clear objectives help participants stay focused.
- Define Roles & Responsibilities: Typical roles include the designer presenting the work, reviewers providing feedback, and a facilitator/moderator managing the session.
- Set An Agenda: Outline the structure of the session, including time allocated for each component. You should also share this agenda with your teammates so they know what to expect.
- Time Management: Stick to the allotted time for the agenda. This helps maintain the session's momentum and ensures that everyone has a chance to participate. Use a timer to remind participants when a discussion is running too long.
- Record The Meeting: Use platform features or special software to record the meeting for participants to revisit later. With all the new AI tools available, you can find something that reviews your tone and delivery to improve your presentation skills.
7 Tips To Elevate Your UX Design Critiques
Creating a no-judgement zone for constructive feedback is easier said than done. After all, the success of your session hinges on factors outside of your control.
It’s not just about the criticisms you give — it’s about how the receiver interprets your feedback and the active participation of everyone in the meeting. It’s more than strategizing products and design processes, it’s an essential team-building exercise that contributes to the ongoing success of your company.
Now that we’ve illustrated the pivotal role of critiques, let’s talk about ways to improve interpersonal communication through criticism.
We get it, you’re not out to hurt someone’s feelings when you’re critiquing their work. But being vague or sugarcoating your feedback won’t lead to actionable takeaways.
Now, we’re not telling you to rip someone’s designs to shreds. Instead, try a balanced approach to your criticisms. State the positives, but highlight the drawbacks (sometimes known as the compliment sandwich).
By offering measured and straightforward suggestions, you’re giving the presenter clear feedback, helping them understand the exact issue you’re trying to convey without completely tearing them down.
Ask For Explanations
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. What you don’t know is what you don’t know! If you’re critiquing a project you’re not involved in (or the person presenting is handling a different aspect of the project), you might not fully grasp the presenter’s thought process.
If you’re unsure about an approach, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or further insights. Remember, designers immerse themselves in data throughout the project. They may have sound reasoning or verified metrics to support their design decisions.
Design critiques are just as much about user experience as the products we create — and nobody wants to feel like they’re solving a problem alone. Instead of explaining “what” is wrong and “why” it’s wrong, suggest alternatives and work through their blockers.
By transforming the critique session into a collaborative problem-solving opportunity, you’re encouraging a mindset of "we're all in this together,” where everyone bounces ideas back and forth to find the best solution.
This is also a chance to define user testing flows (or A/B tests) to see which solutions work better for the intended audience. Because you never really know what target users will respond to until you get the product in front of them.
Link Feedback To Goals
Between iterations and client suggestions, it’s easy for the user’s needs to get lost in the shuffle. That’s why we need our team members to hold us accountable and help us remember the problems we’re trying to solve.
When critiquing a design, referencing research findings and user data bridges the gap between subjective opinions and objective reality. It also helps the designer understand that something could make sense to them logically, but not to the person they’re designing for.
When you present suggestions rooted in user research, you're not just offering opinions but contributing to the user-centered design process. This approach reminds your team of the shared commitment to creating designs that meet user expectations.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Asking open-ended questions during a design critique sparks critical thinking, detailed feedback, and in-depth discussions within the team. Think of them as a thought experiment to improve product designs.
Open-ended questions don't have a single, specific answer. Instead, they invite the designer to provide context, rationale, and insights into their design choices. They also help designers feel less self-conscious about getting involved since there are no wrong answers.
This open-ended approach prompts the designer and other participants to consider various scenarios and user perspectives, leading to a richer discussion.
Remove Your Biases
We all have our own opinions on what looks and feels better. But we’re rarely the exact persona we’re designing for. So if you hate a color, trend, or phrase, it’s probably not useful feedback (unless you can find verifiable evidence supporting your bias).
User-centered design places the user's perspective and needs at the forefront of the design process. Its name alone acknowledges that what may be appealing or intuitive to one person may not necessarily align with the preferences and expectations of the target user group.
Remove your biases to ensure that the design solutions discussed in the critique are grounded in evidence and objectivity, creating a laser focus on the end user instead of personal whims.
Keep Critiques Relegated To In-Person Or Video Meetings
While written critiques serve their purpose, especially for asynchronous communication and documentation, they don’t capture the depth and immediacy of in-person or video meetings.
In-person or video meetings provide an environment where participants can socialize, read expressions, sense tone, and communicate the purpose behind their feedback. Since we know how easily context gets lost over text, face-to-face meetings don’t leave as much room for misinterpretation.
These methods ensure that the intent behind the feedback is accurately conveyed, leading to a more productive and collaborative critique session.
Tips For Receiving Design Feedback
Yes, giving feedback can be uncomfortable sometimes. But let’s not forget that the receiving end can also throw us for a loop, especially when we’re so invested in a project and showing it to someone who’s not as involved.
We can be told to remove our egos from the situation a thousand times, but there’s still that feeling of disappointment when our hard work doesn’t go to plan. Don’t be upset with yourself when you feel this way — it happens with the best of us.
Here are a few tips to help you cope with negative feedback and turn it into something positive:
- Be Prepared To Answer Questions: Anticipate that reviewers may have questions about your design decisions. Be ready to provide context, rationale, and user research findings to help them understand your choices.
- Remain Open-Minded: Be receptive to different viewpoints and resist the urge to become defensive. Remember that critique sessions are about improving the design, not personal validation.
- Take Notes: Keep a notebook or digital note-taking tool handy during the critique. Jot down feedback, suggestions, and questions as they come up. This helps you capture valuable insights and ensures that you don't forget important points.
- Promote Equal Participation: Show your audience that you care about their feedback by asking follow-up questions and leaving room for discussion. As the designer, you can facilitate this by inviting quieter team members to share their thoughts and opinions.
- Avoid Immediate Rebuttals: When you receive feedback, it's natural to want to defend your design choices. However, it's often more productive to listen and absorb the feedback first, even if you don't agree. Take time to reflect before responding.
- Focus On Problems, Not Personalities: Remember that critique sessions are about evaluating the design, not the individuals involved. Keep the conversation centered on design issues and avoid personalizing feedback.
- Schedule Follow-Ups: After the critique session, schedule follow-up meetings to discuss and address the feedback received. This demonstrates your commitment to improvement and gives you a chance to present revised design iterations or ask for guidance if needed.
Use UX Design Critiques To Your Advantage!
In the ever-evolving world of UX design, one thing remains constant: design critiques are necessary to ensure that our designs reach their full potential.
Designers often invest their hearts and souls into their creations, but the input of outsiders can help spot flaws and realign user goals to fulfill the project's purpose. While many still struggle with giving and receiving it, the key to effective critiques lies in the delivery and communication skills involved.
By mastering the art of design critiques, designers can create a culture of constructive feedback and continuous improvement, ultimately delivering better user experiences.
Design critiques are not just beneficial for team-building; they are a valuable tool in the UX designer's arsenal for success. So go forth, critique, and (as usual) be kind.