People are distributed in various places and feel less engaged with each other. Participants cannot see your design work clearly on their screen. You hear the disclaimer “Design critique is not a good use of my time” but don’t know how to overcome it.
As someone who has benefited from and led critiques for remote teams, I’ve had the opportunity to develop six tips that can help you run better design critiques.
1. A good intro is an engaging intro
Your critique participants might have eight meetings that day or come from a different team or be unsure of why your project matters to them. Engaging them from the beginning will make a big difference.
How? You can mention why this critique is relevant to their job during the introductions. For example: “Alex, I invited you because I want to get your unique perspective on how design can influence product privacy, since I know you care deeply about that.” People tend to pay more attention to things that are relevant to them and allow them to demonstrate expertise.
Besides giving participants the motivation to engage, a tailored introduction can make everyone feel more included and connected. Don’t forget that a design critique is also a great team-building activity.
2. Bring people into your world through context
Work shown out of context is not meaningful. Before presenting your work, it’s important to mention:
What is the problem you’re solving for?
How does your work map to the team’s mission or strategy?
What is the status and scope of your work?
What is the ideal outcome of the critique?
What specific types of feedback are you looking for or not looking for?
No matter how familiar you are with everyone in the critique group, it never hurts to state exactly how you prefer to receive their feedback. Pro tip: I find many people prefer to give written feedback during critiques. A doc template is at the end of this post.
3. Present with distributed audience in mind
With remote work, there’s a new challenge of presenting your work clearly and appealingly. Your audience may have multiple windows open or may not have Zoom (or any videoconference tool) open at full width. Try to make your work easy to see even on small screens. I like to do a dry run of my presentation at half the size of my browser window. This helps me identify places where I should zoom in or increase the font size a bit more. I call this “accessibility for remote presentation.”
I’ve also seen designers move around so much in their Figma files that their audience gets lost because of the hectic pace or a screen-sharing lag. Your audience may not have high-speed or stable internet during your presentation. Try to stay on each screen for at least 30 seconds so people can follow along even during a screen lag. At the end, ask if there’s any part of the presentation that someone wants to see again.
4. Be thankful for all feedback
Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. — C.S. Lewis
None of us knows or has experienced everything in the world. A design critique can help us see perspectives we wouldn’t have seen otherwise and is one of the best ways to make sure a design doesn’t fail. That’s why I always appreciate it when people spend time listening to my presentation and offering their perspectives.
What if there’s some negative or harsh feedback that hurts your feelings? Say “thank you” and don’t become defensive. Put your ego aside and remain open to criticism. You’ll grow faster as a designer.
5. It’s not the end yet—remember to organize feedback and follow up
Critiques can fail when designers become burnt out from too many opinions and trying to incorporate all of them in their design. This is the point when many brains can be worse than one. Just like every data scientist needs to clean data, you need to organize feedback. Filter out opinions that don’t take into consideration the context or scope of the design, then group and prioritize opinions that are similar.
If there’s an opinion you’re unsure about, follow up with the person who shared it. Follow-up is an underestimated but valuable step—it helps you avoid misunderstandings and makes people feel more included in your decision-making process. After big changes are made, you can share the updated design with participants to see if it aligns with their expectations.
6. Find your design superpower through critiques
Your project is done, cool. Now is the best time for reflection.
What are the blind spots you commonly have when designing? These can be your areas for improvement.
What positive feedback do you receive most often? This may be your design superpower.
What kind of feedback works best and worst for you?
What’s the critique style of everyone on your team?
You can learn a lot about your design skills through the feedback process.
Here are some templates I created for teams that don’t have critique guidelines. Feel free to tailor them to your own process or situation.
Dropbox Paper: This includes a personalized note-taking/discussion template.
Google Slides: This has Design Critique Guideline in a presentation format.
As you can see, design critiques cover everything from presentation, relationship-building, feedback-receiving skills, and more. While this article is just a start, I want to share some of my favorite resources to help you learn more:
Podcast: New Layer — Design Critique. This podcast by a product design director at Dropbox and the head of design at Gem offers in-depth discussion and practical tips for design critiques.
Book: Discussing Design. One of the best books offering insights into how to present work and how to give and receive feedback.