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Your guide to an efficient design review: Process, types, and steps
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Your guide to an efficient design review: Process, types, and steps

Discover the ins and outs of the design review process including the types and steps—and increase output and efficiency.

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Design reviews are crucial for building consensus, suggesting improvements, and identifying any issues with your product. But design reviews can go off the rails if there isn't structure and it isn't clear how to give feedback. That's why leaders of highly collaborative teams need to understand the design review process and types of reviews, so they can increase teamwork, productivity, and output. 

Discover what the design review process looks like, types of design reviews, and how to host stronger design reviews. Then, learn how Switchboard lets everyone share ideas and feedback in context—and build better products.  

Plan and host design reviews all from one place.
Switchboard rooms let you view and interact with multiple designs side by side, and give feedback in real time or on your own time. 
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What is a design review process? 

A design review process involves evaluating a project or product's design at various stages of development. It's a common process used in engineering, manufacturing, software development, and industrial design to ensure that a product: 

  • Meets its specifications
  • Complies with standards
  • Performs reliably
  • Fulfills its intended purpose effectively

The design review also aims to identify problems early in the development process, which can reduce overall costs and prevent issues during production or deployment. This is usually done by encouraging the product team to give creative feedback and ask probing questions.  

Stages of a design review

Since the design review is a crucial part of product development, it needs to happen at multiple stages of the development process. A strong creative approval workflow helps make sure the final product is innovative and functional as well as safe, reliable, and aligned with user needs and expectations.

Although it's better to make this process your own (more on this below), here are some examples of design reviews at various stages. 

  • Conceptual design review. Assesses the design concept to make sure it aligns with project requirements before any mock-ups are created. 
  • Preliminary design review. Evaluates early design to verify it meets the set criteria before moving forward.
  • Critical design review. Occurs after the detailed design is completed, ensuring the design can be reliably manufactured or implemented.
  • Final design review. This takes place before the product release, ensuring all design issues have been addressed and the product meets all requirements.

Different types of design reviews

There are a few different types of design reviews based on who's giving design review feedback. For example, a prospective customer has different perspectives and goals when it comes to the product's design than the engineer who designed it. That's why you need to get the right input to make sure you're not basing your go-to-market design on one person's perspective. 

Here are some common types of design reviews: 

User design review

User design reviews are centered around the end users of the product. This type of review is crucial for ensuring that the product meets the actual needs and expectations of its intended users. It typically involves:

  • User testing. Potential users or current users interact with the design or prototype, engaging with it in ways that reflect typical scenarios.
  • Feedback collection. Direct feedback is gathered regarding functionality, usability, and overall experience.

Stakeholder design review

Stakeholder design reviews involve individuals who have a vested interest in the success of the product, although they may not be direct users. This includes clients, executives, investors, and other key partners. The main focuses are:

  • Strategic alignment. Ensuring the design aligns with the overall business strategies and objectives.
  • Risk evaluation. Stakeholders assess potential risks and their impact on the project, discussing ways to mitigate them.
  • Resource discussion. Stakeholders review the budget, resources, and timelines to ensure the project can proceed within its allocated constraints.

Stakeholder reviews are essential for maintaining the project’s alignment with business goals and for securing continued investment and support.

Peer design review

Peer design reviews are conducted among colleagues within the same field or team. They're typically more technical and detailed, involving people with similar expertise who review each other’s work. These reviews often include:

  • Technical assessment. Peers scrutinize the design for technical accuracy, compliance with standards, and overall quality.
  • Creative feedback. Constructive criticism from peers helps improve creativity and resolve potential design issues.
  • Collaborative problem solving. Peers use these sessions to work together to address and solve design challenges, benefiting from diverse technical insights.
Pro tip: Create a dedicated design review room in Switchboard and keep everything from user research to mock-ups, prototypes, and tools organized in an expansive canvas. With everything you need in a single place, you can spend less time sharing files and more time improving your product.
Multiple documents in a Switchboard room
Switchboard is your single source of truth for all things design reviews. Source: Switchboard

7 steps to build a strong design review process

From defining a design review process to determining where and how to give feedback, let's dive into how to build a design review process that moves projects forward meaningfully. 

1. Define a design review process

Start by clearly defining the stages of the design review process, including when reviews should take place during the product development lifecycle. As outlined above, this might involve initial reviews during the conceptual phase, more detailed reviews during the development phase, and final reviews before product launch. 

A software development team might define its design review process to coincide with the agile development cycle. For instance, they could conduct preliminary design reviews at the end of each sprint to evaluate new features or changes. This process would include user design reviews for UI/UX changes and a critical design review before each major release. This makes sure all aspects of the software meet quality standards and functional requirements.

2. Select reviewer groups

The design review has many stages, which lets you collect a wide range of feedback across stakeholders. Reviewer groups might include end users, project stakeholders, technical peers, and cross-functional team members. Each group should offer unique perspectives relevant to the product’s success. It's important to include a diverse range of skills and experiences in the review process to cover all aspects of the design thoroughly.

It's also important to select each group based on their relevance to the review’s focus. For instance, for a user interface redesign, selecting a group of actual users and UX/UI experts would be the most useful for generating better design feedback. 

3. Determine how and where to give feedback 

This is the step where you decide on the methods and best design feedback tools for collecting and sharing actionable input. Make sure the methods you choose facilitate clear, constructive, and structured feedback that's easy for designers to understand and act upon. 

For example, a product design team might create a Switchboard room and populate it with Figma prototypes, GitHub issue tracking, and Asana Kanban boards. This lets everyone see how work is progressing in context, regardless of when they're in a meeting or not. Plus, they can add general feedback on sticky notes or leave questions in the apps directly for more detailed and relevant insights. 

You also need to consider how you want to receive feedback: Do you want suggestions or should people be asking questions? Questions are especially valuable in the early stages of design when the concept is still being formed. On the other hand, suggestions are more effective in later stages of design when refining details and making final adjustments. 

4. Send out a pre-review

Before the actual review, distribute pre-review materials like design documents, prototypes, user stories, and any other relevant information that can help reviewers prepare for the session. 

By giving people time to prepare questions or constructive feedback in advance, you can skip waiting for everyone to come up with ideas—and hold more productive design reviews. Reviewers can delve into the details without the pressure of immediate responses, providing more nuanced and considered feedback. Sending out pre-reviews can also accommodate different schedules and work styles, giving everyone more flexibility to move work forward on their own time. 

If you're using Switchboard, you can add all your work to a dedicated design review room. Websites, applications, images, videos, PDFs, sticky notes—they all can be used side by side in a Switchboard room. This means you can plan and host your design review from one place—or skip the meeting and give design feedback on your own time.

Virtual whiteboard, Google Docs, and Figma designs in a Switchboard room
Switchboard gives designers, stakeholders, and reviewers the space to be creative. Source: Switchboard

5. Ask questions 

Regardless of where you are in the design and development process, it's still a good idea to encourage your team to ask questions. Questions can uncover assumptions, clarify design decisions, and reveal areas that may need further explanation. 

Asking questions can also reduce team and information silos while stimulating critical thinking and deeper analysis of the design. But it's important for the facilitator to manage this process to ensure every voice is heard and that the discussion remains focused and productive. This is especially important in real-time meetings that can get sidetracked or dominated by one person. 

Here are some examples of questions you can ask across design themes: 

  • How does this design solve the problem it’s intended to address?
  • Are there any user pain points that have not been addressed in this design?
  • Are the visual elements appealing and appropriate for the target audience?
  • How does this design perform under stress or high usage scenarios?
  • Are there any industry standards or best practices that we are not adhering to?
  • What makes this design innovative or unique?
  • How easy is it to update or modify the design?
  • How does this design impact the overall project timeline?

6. Create and share your next design iteration

Based on the feedback received, you can decide how to update the designs. This involves addressing the concerns and suggestions from the review and implementing changes that aim to improve the design. Once the updates are made, share the new iteration with the same groups or a subset of the original reviewers to ensure that the revisions meet expected outcomes. 

For example, if feedback indicated that users found the interface confusing, you might simplify the navigation or adjust the layout for better clarity. 

In Switchboard, you can populate your design review room with updated design iterations and compare them to older designs side-by-side. Since Switchboard rooms save your work, it's easy to track design changes over time, refer to feedback and comments, and stay up to date on current versions. 

7. Repeat until it's approved

Continue the cycle of review, feedback, and revision until the product meets the necessary criteria and gains final approval from all key stakeholders. Each cycle of feedback and revision is a chance to improve the product incrementally

To keep iterations productive, it's important to limit reviewers to only those who are essential and probably not everyone from the first review. You also need to set clear objectives for each iteration cycle to ensure progress is measurable. 

For instance, a product team might aim to enhance the load time and user navigation in a web application's dashboard. Progress can be tracked through metrics such as user engagement rates or performance benchmarks. The process repeats—collecting feedback, refining the design, and sharing the updated version—until the design successfully aligns with the user needs, technical specifications, and business goals, leading to final approval. This step is crucial for moving the product from the design phase to development and production stages confidently.

Improving the design review process: Get more done in the pre-review 

Strong design teams know that design reviews are crucial for building consensus, gathering feedback, and identifying any issues with the product. But they also probably know how quickly design reviews can go off the rails if they're lacking structure and clear steps for collecting actionable feedback. 

That's why leaders and product teams need to understand the design review process and types of reviews, so they can increase teamwork, productivity, and output. Some key steps include: Defining a design review process, determining how and where to give feedback, and sending out a pre-review. 

Plus, in Switchboard, it's easy to create comprehensive pre-review rooms with all the information and features you need to collect solid feedback. This lets everyone come together and contribute ideas in advance, so you can skip the meeting altogether and keep projects moving forward on your own time. 

Plan and host design reviews all from one place.
Switchboard rooms let you view and interact with multiple designs side by side, and give feedback in real time or on your own time. 
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about the design review process

What are the design review process steps? 

There are various steps for the design review approval process, which includes building a design process around different stakeholders' feedback, user experience, and product feasibility. The steps include: 

  • Defining a design review process
  • Selecting review groups
  • Determining how and where to give feedback
  • Sending out a pre-review
  • Asking questions
  • Creating and sharing your next design iteration 
  • Repeating the process until it's approved

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Plan and host design reviews all from one place.

Switchboard rooms let you view and interact with multiple designs side by side, and give feedback in real time or on your own time.