The 4 essentials of a design critique

Nearly all designers give and receive critiques in art school. It’s the most common means of formally discussing positive and negative criticism about a creative solution. Clients typically haven’t been trained in this technique, yet are constantly required to provide feedback on design. Terry Lee Stone’s new two-book series, Managing The Design ProcessConcept Development and Implementing Design — offers insights and guidance on how to successfully orchestrate all aspects of the intricate collaborative partnership between designer and client, including how to critique design.

Design critiques are guided group discussions used to elicit useful feedback.
In a critique, designers need to uncover their client’s true opinions about the design solution being presented. It is important to avoid discussion of specifically what the designer needs to do to make something better. Rather, a critique should generate thoughtful consideration and information that the designer reviews, then incorporates, into the next phase of work on the project. Designers may want to explain to their clients how to effectively critique design solutions in order to get the most valuable and actionable feedback possible.

Clients need to provide design criticism in an effective manner, and designers must negotiate that feedback responsibly. The chart below outlines how designers can manage the feedback loop to best advantage.

Here are the four essential steps and key questions to consider in a design critique:

1. Overview
• Initial reactions: What is your first impression of the design?
• Content: Is everything present that should be included in the design?
• Aesthetics: What is the total overall effect? Does it feel right?
• Style: Does the design style seem appropriate for the stated goal or purpose?

2. Analysis
• Layout: Does everything seem to be in the right place?
• Flow: Does the content appear in a natural and logical progression?
• Usability: Is it easy to use or interact with the design solution?
• Typography: Does the type feel appropriate in tone?
• Color: How is color used? What effect does it have in terms of conveying the desired message?
• Completeness: Is anything missing? Conversely, is anything there that shouldn’t be?

3. Interpretation
• Audience: How do you think the target audience will respond to this solution? Why? Why not?
• Details: Is the use of these particular graphic elements consistent with the goals of the project? Why? Why not?
• Problem areas: What things in this solution are not as effective as they could be? Why do you think that?
• Appeal: Is this an effective and appealing design for the context it will live in? Why? Why not?

4. Evaluation
• Brief: Does this design fulfill the creative brief. If not, why not?
• Judgment: Given the answers to the above, does this design work?

Terry Lee Stone is based in Los Angeles and specializes in the management of creative people, projects and processes. She teaches the business of design at Art Center College of Design. The author of several books on design, her most recent series, Managing The Design Process, is published by Rockport Publishers. Visit her website; buy her books here or at your favorite bookseller.

Chart graphic by AdamsMorioka from Managing The Design Process: Concept Development

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Comments (6)

  1. Posted by Cindy Salant on 04.13.11 at 1:16 pm

    i could have used this in school…

  2. Posted by Gunnar Swanson on 04.24.11 at 3:54 pm


    My one quibble is with “Think about who pays the bills.” Sure, you should think about that, but thinking about -why- they are paying the bills is the best for the client, the designer, and the project. Sometimes they have to have it their way but if the conversation is right, it isn’t about power, it’s about the shared project and the needs of the client and the client’s customers.

  3. Posted by Terry Lee Stone on 04.24.11 at 8:55 pm

    Gunnar, I definitely hear you. I’m a big believer that for the most part, designers have their clients’ (& their clients’ customers/audience) true needs in mind when they design. So when designers are arguing passionately, it really isn’t power tripping, but a desire to do the right thing. I say “Think about who pays the bills,” because at the end of the day, if the designer can’t persuade their client to do the right thing, they need to acquiesce.

  4. Posted by Iain Hamilton on 04.29.11 at 12:22 pm

    “if the designer can’t persuade their client to do the right thing, they need to acquiesce.”

    Paul Rand would not agree with that.

  5. Posted by paulrand on 03.22.16 at 12:45 pm

    understood. but we’re not Paul Rands yet

  6. Posted by Steven Garcia on 11.17.17 at 6:27 pm

    I am a student of design at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA. We will be doing a critique of each other’s work in the final project and this information will greatly assist in my ability to effectively do an honest and fair critique of my fellow student’s work. Thanks, Steven Garcia

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