Design Critique Tips

Design Critique Tips

The design critique is a valuable way to improve creative work, offer feedback to teams or individual designers, and simply gain a better understanding of an in-development concept or idea. We discussed the design critique in the Fall 2018 Second Wind Magazine [“Design Critique: The Missing Step in the Design Process”].

Here are some additional tips on the design critique process.


Frame comments and suggestions as “successful” or “unsuccessful.” Relate back to components of the creative brief for why you feel something is successful or unsuccessful.

Be specific. E.g., not “The dark outlines look good,” but, “The dark outlines are successful because they help visually separate the categories.”

Being specific applies to questions as well as comments. Ask specific questions to clarify thinking.

Rearranging or adding elements should be reserved; instead, focus on analyzing and clarifying the designer’s work.

Empathize with the presenter. “I understand you did (A) to be consistent with (B); but I’m concerned it doesn’t address (C).”

Always frame remarks around the end user/audience. “If we want people to do (A), shouldn’t (B) happen earlier in the process?”

Be brief and succinct, allowing time for others to comment. If you have additional comments, jot some notes to share with the moderator, designer or team.


Share your goals for the critique (timing, focus, kind of help/insights you need).

Provide context. (project goals, background research, rationale for the idea/concept).

Have someone take notes, or record the critique for later review. This gives the presenter/designer more time to fully process feedback.

Don’t get defensive. Critiques are aimed at improving the work or generating better results. Park the ego outside.

If questions are raised that you can’t immediately answer, say, “Interesting question. I’ll look into that and report back.”

Try to get all participants to offer thoughts. Ask the silent ones directly for thoughts if necessary.

Not all suggestions have to be incorporated. Examine all critiques and seek ways to use the best ideas. Be prepared to defend your choices.

Try the Five Whys Technique.

Critiques are useful not just for refining the idea, but for improving your ability to explain it to your clients. 

To push presenters to explain the thinking around their idea or concept, use a technique called Five Whys. The theory, originating at Toyota Motor Corporation as it was developing its manufacturing methods, proposes that asking why at least five times helps you get to a “root” cause or insight, with each why digging a bit deeper. The technique is about achieving clarity—finding the right way to explain the key point in a concept or solution to a problem. [See also The Kaizen Agency: Harnessing Employee Power to Make the Agency Better.]

InVision designer Pablo Stanley illustrated the Five Whys concept.

If a solution or insight is complex, you may need to break it into smaller segments and use Five Whys to dig deeper on each part of the solution to gain a better understanding.

You can use Five Whys with clients, too, although it takes some practice to do it without sounding like a three-year-old in her “Why?” phase (i.e., super-annoying and enough to drive you a bit crazy).

See also: 

The Comment Zone: Five Ways to Use Collaboration to Push Creative Boundaries

The Gift of Creative Detachment – Designer Ego vs. Customer Focus


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