10 (Productive) Methods for Critiquing Design

Meg Davis  

February 01, 2012

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In a recent FastCo.Design article about brainstorming, Cliff Kuang discusses how criticism during group brainstorming can actually improve the flow of ideas. I agree – as long as the criticism is productive and generative. Here are 10 methods for ensuring your criticism makes ideas flow during the next design or wireframe review you attend:

1. Establish Goals First. Make sure there’s consensus around what the goal of the design, interaction, page, or product is before starting to review it.

2. Ask Questions. Ask questions to understand the intentions behind decisions. Give the designer the benefit of the doubt by asking questions like, “Did you think about…?” and “What would happen if…?”

3. Discuss only after Understanding. Ask clarifying questions readily until you feel you could explain the idea to someone else. Wait until you understand the full idea and concept before discussing changes. When you do discuss changes, build off someone else’s idea instead of going in a complete 180 direction.

4. Use Sticky Notes to Comment. Actually putting sticky notes on the design gives everyone in the group an equal opportunity to offer insight. Sticky notes are also removable and movable!

5. Move through the Design with Scenarios. Returning to scenarios brings the user to the forefront and asks, “What would the user do?”

6. Explore the Pros and Cons of Alternative Approaches. Talking about alternatives helps to eliminate assumptions and ensure that each member of the design team holds the same priorities.

7. Project the Design on a Whiteboard to Allow for Writing and Sketching in Context. This activity gets everyone up and moving during a critique and captures all of the feedback in context.

8. Compare the Design against Nielsen’s Heuristics. Heurstics serve as a great reminder checklist of basic principles of usability.

9. Use Metaphors to Express Criticism and Ideas. Metaphors can be easier to talk about objectively than the brainchild of the design team. They also focus the attention on the broader sentiment of the design.

10. Don’t Forget to be Positive! Constructive feedback is a as valuable as criticism. Plus, it shows your respect for the design team’s ideas and work.