Dragan Babic enables design within creatively-challenged organizations.

Surviving design reviews

If you are dreading design reviews, I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong.

So, what makes the design review a dreadful experience for many? I think I’ve figured it out. Most designers approach the design review meeting like they do an exam, in a me-vs-them setup.

Here I am, presenting you the results of my hard work, and waiting for you to shred it to pieces. In this scenario designers are assigning the decision-making power, and the final say to the stakeholders. They make them the "approvers" of the work, instead of using them as the domain experts who can contribute to the work from their respective angle.

This is a problem.

The design review is not a me-vs-you exercise. Do not act like stakeholders are there to judge your work. Your responsibility as a designer is to present your work, and explain how it contributes to the project's goals to the people who are affected by your design decisions in various ways, but are not experts in design.

Stakeholders need to understand your design before they can form a stance towards it. If you don't give them a good chance to do so, you are setting everyone up for failure.

Also, in a design review no one is judging you personally—or at least they shouldn't be. This is extremely important to remember. Decoupling your self-worth from the results of your work will do wonders to your mental health as a designer.

How to conduct a productive design review, you will not dread

Provide context first

Don’t just jump into explaining the work and expecting everyone to “get it”. Instead, start with the problem and the research you did in order to get to the result. This will equip everyone with enough understanding of your work in order to provide valuable input.

Don’t let people roam

Take control and guide the presentation. Tell people what seems obvious to you. Take them through the steps one by one. There is nothing worse than coming up and telling everyone to “browse around”. This will not yield quality feedback.

Provide scope

Be very specific about what you want feedback on, and even more importantly what you don’t want feedback on. I.e. if you’re exploring layouts, tell your audience to ignore the typography.

As a stakeholder, there are also some tips I’d like to share. If you are new to participating in design reviews, framing your feedback like this will give structure to the conversation and provide value to the designers.

Try to cover these points:

  1. Give your overall impressions.
  2. What you liked.
  3. What could be better.
  4. State any open questions you might have.

Bonus 1: some further reading, and a handy feedback matrix in this post.

Bonus 2: a great overview of conducting remote design critiques.


What's this?

Dragan Babic is a design consultant enabling creatively challenged organizations to nurture design, and work with design professionals in productive ways.

You are reading his blog.