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How to run a productive design critique session
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How to run a productive design critique session

Discover how to run more productive design critique sessions and move faster on designs with your team.

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Design critique sessions are an integral part of the design process, providing a valuable platform to get input on your work before you go too far down the road in one direction. But it shouldn’t be a free-for-all, so you need to know how to run these sessions right to make them productive—and constructive. 

Since they’re a hands-on, visual affair, the right space also makes all the difference so you can get everyone together and explore designs side by side.

In this post, we’ll look at what a design critique session is, how to run one, and how an online collaboration platform like Switchboard provides the perfect space to do that. 

Run more productive design critique sessions. 

Switchboard rooms bring all your designs and people together in one place where you can work on anything side by side. 

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What is a design critique session? 

A design critique session is a key part of the design process that feeds into collaborative design methods. It involves members of the design team, as well as other stakeholders, coming together to evaluate and provide feedback on a work-in-progress design. Normally, the designer will present their work to the group, who will provide input, suggestions, and critiques to refine and enhance the design. 

Design critique sessions aim to improve the design by gathering constructive, objective feedback on whether or not it meets user needs. 

What’s the difference between design review and design critique? 

Design critiques are often confused with design reviews. However, while these creative processes have many similarities, they differ in their objectives and timing:  

  • Design reviews are part of the creative approval workflow. They take place at specific points in the design process and are aimed at getting approvals so the design team can move on to the next stage or task. Design reviews are intended to improve the design as well as evaluate whether it meets a specific set of requirements–like a project milestone or business goals–so the team can progress or hand it off to the next team. Therefore, the timing of design reviews is often dictated by the project timeline. 
  • Design critiques are more about improving the design based on expert feedback rather than getting approval. They can happen at any stage in the design process and focus on the whole design or one specific aspect of it. The work presented is also more likely to be “unfinished” than that presented in a design review session. 

What are the benefits of design critique sessions? 

Design critique sessions have a lot of benefits for designers, clients, and users. For example:

  • Improves the design: Design critiques are a great way to get constructive feedback to refine and enhance your work. It’s a fresh pair (or several pairs) of expert eyes and perspectives that can help spot issues you may have missed or see things from other points of view.  
  • Enables an agile, iterative design process: Design critiques let you quickly identify and address design issues at any stage without waiting for a formal design review. When you can get input and adjust the design on the fly, you can be more agile and respond to changing user needs or market demands. Iterative processes are also lower risk, as you don’t spend a ton of time coming up with a finished design only to have to change it.  
  • Provides a safe space to get better feedback: Design critiques focus on providing constructive, actionable feedback, not criticism. When run this way, it allows designers to present work without fear of negative judgment.  
  • Develops presentation and feedback skills: Taking part in regular critiques allows fellow designers to hone their skills when it comes to explaining their design choices, constraints, and challenges. They also learn how to receive and act on constructive feedback, which is a valuable skill. For those critiquing the design, it’s a chance to practice giving constructive, actionable, and objective feedback.  
  • Promotes teamwork: Well-run design critiques help build trust and break down silos between different teams, like designers, developers, product managers, etc. Coming together like this creates a shared understanding of project and design goals–and team challenges–that helps foster better teamwork. 

Best practices to run a design critique session 

As we’ve seen, design critique sessions have a lot of benefits for your teams and users, but you need to know how to run them to make the most of the time. That’s why, next, we’ll take a look at some best practices to hold productive design critique sessions. 

Invite the right people 

As with any meeting, getting the right people in the room is crucial for success. Opinions vary on how large the critique group should be, but smaller is generally better. Large groups can lead to multiple conflicting opinions that can cause the session to overrun. Similarly, if you have people in the room who aren’t qualified to comment, it can derail the conversation and lead to less valuable feedback. 

Here are some of the key figures to include in your design critique session: 

  • Presenter: This is the main designer or representative of the design team. It’s their job to present the work and provide the necessary context and content for the critique. Depending on the stage, that might include things like user research and rationale for the design decisions to date. 
  • Critiquers: This is the audience for the presentation and the people responsible for assessing the design and providing feedback. Typically, this will include a small number of other team members (designers, developers, copywriters, product managers, etc.), as well as other relevant stakeholders.
  • Facilitator: They’re here to ensure a productive session by making sure all participants are prepared and provide actionable, objective, constructive input. They’re also responsible for keeping the discussion on topic, on track, and on time, which might involve reminding people of the central question they need to answer during the critique. For example, “Does this design meet our users’ needs?” If side topics come up, the facilitator should table them for another time. 
  • Note-taker: This person–who may also be the facilitator–is responsible for recording important insights and questions. They’ll take notes on relevant points raised, collect feedback, and note down side topics. If there’s any development of visual ideas during the session, they should also keep a record of it. Afterward, the note-taker can summarize and share the findings with the design team so they can act on them. 
Pro tip: When you meet in a Switchboard room, you can use the built-in whiteboard or any third-party whiteboard to sketch out ideas side by side—without sharing screens. You can also jot down ideas in sticky notes where everyone can see them. 

Best of all, everything stays right where you left it after the critique, so you’ll never lose another bright idea again.
Switchboard design critique room with apps and people, including a whiteboard.
Switchboard saves your work—so your design feedback is waiting for you next time you hop into the room. Source: Switchboard

Prepare and share materials and information in advance 

Good preparation makes for a more focused and productive design critique session: Letting people review materials, etc. in advance means you can save time on one-way readouts and get straight down to constructive critiquing when you meet. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Communicate the logistics: Send a meeting invite with the agenda and any necessary links or files in advance. Let people know who’ll be acting as presenter, facilitator, note-taker, etc. 
  • Provide context and background: Share any user research, personas, or previous design iterations that provide context for your audience. You may also want to recap the project background and objectives, business goals, user needs, and any constraints, timelines, etc. The aim is for your audience to understand what problem you’re trying to solve, why, and for whom. Don’t explain too much, though: The less your audience knows, the more they can approach the design from the perspective of your users, who know nothing of the background.   
  • Share the designs or prototypes: Make these available for participants to review ahead of time, if possible. When doing this, you’ll want to think about how to present them. For example, as wireframes, mockups, interactive prototypes, etc. Be sure to also provide context on what they’re reviewing. For example, is it a final design or a work-in-progress? 
  • Clearly define session goals and objectives: Communicate the specific questions or aspects of the design that you want feedback on. This helps keep feedback as targeted and useful as possible. Be sure to also specify if there are any aspects you don’t want feedback on at this stage, as well as whether you prefer to hear feedback and questions during your presentation or afterward
Pro tip: Share your meeting agenda and designs in your Switchboard design critique room ahead of the session. That way, everyone can get up to speed beforehand and come ready to pitch in with constructive feedback. 
Switchboard design review room with people and apps.
Switchboard is a virtual meeting tool for designers that also allows you to work asynchronously. Source: Switchboard

Know how to give and receive feedback 

These are important skills to develop and make for a more productive session and united team. Here are a few pointers for those critiquing the design:  

  • Stay positive: Set a positive, collaborative tone from the start by highlighting aspects of the design that you like and that work well. As the session progresses, keep your language positive, phrasing feedback tactfully and avoiding language that could be perceived as harsh or judgmental. Think “build up,” not “tear down.” 
  • Tie feedback into the design goals: Keep project goals and user needs etc. in mind when providing feedback. Explain how your suggestions could better address the core problem the design is trying to solve. 
  • Focus on specific, actionable feedback: Just pointing out problems or only providing vague suggestions for improvement isn’t that helpful. Instead, identify a few key areas you think could be improved and explain why and how. 
  • Encourage the designer to reflect and decide: Give them agency by reminding them that they’re ultimately responsible for the design decisions. They should consider your feedback but feel free not to implement every suggestion. 
  • Ask clarifying questions: Before jumping in, ask questions to better understand the designer’s intent, goals, and constraints. For example, “What was the reasoning behind this design decision?" or "How does this align with user needs?" can provide helpful context.

Those receiving feedback should: 

  • Not take it personally: Leaving your ego at the door is hard to do, but it’s important not to get defensive or take feedback personally. Keep an open mind and take comments in the spirit they’re intended: to improve the design. 
  • Listen actively and ask clarifying questions: Limit distractions so you can focus 100% on what people are saying. If anything isn’t clear, ask follow up questions to understand the critiquer’s perspective and the why behind their comments. 
  • Not rush in with solutions: There’ll be time for that later. For now, focus on understanding the feedback rather than coming up with a response. 
  • Be prepared to defend your decisions: This doesn’t mean getting defensive, but if you know you won’t be able to implement a specific bit of feedback, be sure to let them know why. For example, budgetary or time constraints might prevent you from developing certain aspects further.  
  • Know the difference between subjective and objective feedback: With the best will in the world, it’s hard not to let personal preference influence you. Try to remain objective yourself and focus on what can actually improve the design and meet your goals. 
  • Reflect and prioritize: After the session, review the notes and decide which feedback to act on based on your goals and constraints. Then, share your decisions with the team. 

Ask the right questions 

Knowing which questions to ask makes for a more focused design critique session. Here are just a few suggestions: 

  • Does the design clearly address the stated goals and objectives? This forces you to focus on the main problems the design is trying to solve and whether it’s fit for purpose.

  • What are the design’s strengths and weaknesses? Focus on what’s working well and what needs improvement or refinement. Then, what ideas or suggestions you have to achieve that.  
  • Is the design intuitive and easy to use? Think about things like whether the UX (user experience), UI (user interface), and navigation are clear and easy to use. Remember that it also needs to be accessible for users with different abilities. 
  • How effective is the visual design and branding? Does the style align with your brand and your users’ expectations? Think about things like whether typography, color, and layout are effective and on point. 
  • Are any alternative approaches or solutions possible? Ask yourself whether the design could be more effective or user-friendly, as well as whether anything needs to be added to the current proposal. 

The facilitator can help here by reformulating vague or subjective feedback in the form of questions. For example, instead of a comment like “I don’t like that font on that background,” they could turn it into “Does this color scheme make it easy for users to quickly locate key information?” This is more helpful to the designer to assess the problem and come up with solutions.  

Follow up 

After the session, the facilitator or note taker should summarize all the feedback and notes captured during the session. It’s up to them to document key takeaways, action items, and next steps and share these with the team. Then, the designers can analyze the feedback and decide which suggestions to implement before letting the rest of the team know how they’ll proceed. This keeps everyone on track and in the loop. 

Depending on how complex the feedback is, you may also want to schedule individual follow-up conversations with specific reviewers to dive deeper into their comments. This provides additional clarity and lets you explore ideas in more depth. 

Pro tip: Use Switchboard AI to summarize notes and room activity. Then, paste in a notepad in your room to share summarized feedback with the team. 
Switchboard AI menu commands.
Switchboard AI takes the hard work out of manual tasks like summarizing design critique feedback. Source: Switchboard

Design critique template 

So you don’t have to summarize all our advice manually, here’s a handy design critique template you can use for your sessions. 

Design critique session: 

Design critique sessions are a chance to get expert input and fresh perspectives on your work—so you can improve it. To run one properly, you need to prepare and share materials in advance and provide training for your teams on how to give and receive constructive feedback in the spirit it’s provided. All the while asking smart questions and keeping your project goals–and users–in mind. 

When you run these sessions in Switchboard, you get an always open space where you can share and explore designs and materials, as well as interact, sketch out ideas, and take notes. Having everything in one place means people can get up to speed before the call—so you can spend more time on constructive feedback when you meet. 

Run more productive design critique sessions. 

Switchboard rooms bring all your designs and people together in one place where you can work on anything side by side. 

Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about design critique sessions 

How do you conduct a design critique? 

You conduct a design critique session by inviting the right people to participate. For example, members of the design and related teams, as well as key stakeholders. Share the designs and any background information in advance so everyone can get up to speed before the meeting. During the meeting, have a note taker and facilitator whose job it is to record everything and keep the discussion focused. They should also remind people of key questions to ask and how to give and receive constructive feedback. After the session, they should summarize all the feedback and notes and share them with the team. 

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Run more productive design critique sessions.

Switchboard rooms bring all your designs and people together in one place where you can work on anything side by side.