How to be an amazing designer

How to run design reviews

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Feedback plays a critical role in the design process. But instead of being productive, many design reviews merely conjure the ghost of collaboration, devolving into firing lines where everyone takes pot-shots at the design, or pitch sessions, where a designer gives an elaborate presentation to win over their peers.

Worst of all: when there’s no meeting at all.

At TWG, we wanted to make the most of our design critiques. So we developed a formal process that improves our designs, creates a productive environment, lets our whole team participate, and ensures repeatable results.

The basic rules:

  • Every project must have at least 1 critique session a month
  • No more than 6 people per session, to keep things moving
  • Bring new people to each session, so we get a broad perspective
  • The project’s primary designer should be present to run the review and hear feedback firsthand

Here’s a closer look at how things work before, during, and after our critique process.

Before the design review

before-meeting

The project’s primary designer needs to keep the session productive, fast-paced, and under an hour, so being organized and setting scope are key.

Once we’ve picked participants, we send an invite with info they’ll need to be prepared. That typically includes:

  • When and where to meet
  • Project goals
  • Any important constraints, like “content can’t be changed”
  • Project timeline
  • Current level of design fidelity
  • Devices to bring, if any
  • Goals of the review (i.e., what we’re trying to learn)

The project lead should also ensure that any materials that’ll be shown are ready. For reviews, we try to create a prototype that demonstrates a complete user action or flow. This includes any steps users will take before reaching the site or app. If the user experience starts with getting an email, then our prototype starts in an email client.

An hour before the session, we send a reminder with all the above included.

The project’s primary designer needs to keep the session productive, fast-paced, and under an hour, so being organized and setting scope are key.

During the design review

Startup Stock Photos

The lead designer writes the goals of the project and the critique on a board so participants can keep them in mind. They then point the participants to the prototype and provide any context users might need to understand the flow.

The designer should never pitch their design or their ideas.

For reviews, we always try to create a prototype that demonstrates a complete user action or flow.

The designer then gives the reviewers a reasonable amount of time (around 25 minutes) to explore the prototype on their own. Reviewers take notes and should keep them to themselves for now. For good note-taking, we encourage reviewers to:

  • Always keep the project’s goals in mind
  • Note what you like, as well as what you don’t
  • Avoid subjective absolutes like, “This looks ugly”
  • Try not to speak for the target user—unless you are the target user
  • Prioritize their feedback, focusing on the largest issues first

The designer should never pitch their design or their ideas.

Discussing feedback
We leave at least half of a critique session to review feedback—it can run long.

We ask each reviewer to give 1 piece of feedback, and then each item is discussed as necessary—some ideas are obviously good and the whole room will agree, while others are more contentious and need to be addressed later. The facilitator keeps the following in mind while leading the discussion:

  • Keep things moving—don’t let a discussion drag on or let 1 person dominate the discussion
  • If people disagree with an idea, write it down to vote later
  • Remember that not all feedback is good—plan to disregard many ideas

When everyone’s finished or when there’s about 10 minutes left, the designer stops collecting feedback and starts wrapping up.

To organize a final list of feedback, we encourage people to add their comments to the InVision prototype so the designer follow up with questions. If the prototype is in-browser, we use a commenting tool like Trackduck.

Not all feedback is good.

After the design review

after-meeting

Now, the project’s designers take some time to think about each piece of feedback and explore possible solutions. We don’t want them committing to solutions in the review meeting, before they’ve had time to iterate.

Not all feedback needs to be addressed—the designer makes the call on what to keep and what to change, but they should listen closely and keep their minds open. Part of accomplishing that involves ditching your ego and remembering that you are not your designs. Feedback is a gift that shouldn’t be ignored.

You are not your designs.

When they’re done right, design reviews provide much-needed insight and perspective—plus, they can be fun. If you’re in an agency setting and have gotten comfortable with the format, include your clients too.

CTA for those not in hs to DO UI kit
Author

Brian Pullen, Design Director at TWG
Design Director at @TWG. Co-founder of @PlaygroundInc and @bigterminal. I like writing about design, technology, and management.

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