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Blog: How to boost design thinking part 3 – Design critique


In the final part of our design thinking blog series, we focus on design critique. Our Service Designer Pirkka offers tips for facilitating constructive feedback.

Design critique is an essential part of design communication.

Anyone who has demoed or presented software, UIs, ideas and so on, has experienced how the feedback given on the presentation focuses on insignificant details or isn’t constructive. As I stated earlier, presenting a business-oriented solution or a use case may help steer the feedback in the right direction. You can also try to facilitate constructive feedback with questions and design critique.

Workshopping brings structure to feedback

Design critique can be defined as a method where the designer of the solution invites others to review the functionality of the solution with respect to its goals. The critique conversation can be had in a meeting or a workshop where the designer presents the solution, goals and relevant background. The reviewers focus on how the solution serves its goals and ask the designer clarifying questions. Ideas about new solutions and further development are to be discussed after the review in order to fully assess the functionality of the presented solution. The book Discussing Design presents a detailed description of the method.

Adjust to find the method that works for you

A workshop might be the most productive way to utilize design critique, but organizing one isn’t always possible. Next, I’ll present some ideas to adapt the method.

Try the rubberduck method on video

Rubberduck debugging is the story of a method where a developer presents their software out loud to a rubber duck and discovers the possible errors in the software’s logic. If a suitable sparring buddy isn’t available, you can use the same method to identify gaps in your ideas and plans. Together with my mentor Kimmo we discussed an adaptation of the method where the presentation is recorded on video. If you manage to keep the number of retakes low, it’s likely that your idea is clear and your solution is mature. You can verify this by watching the video and coming up with clarifying questions. I put this method into practice in my current project and I’m very likely to give it a go in the future as well.

Design critique

The era of remote work makes us do desperate things. A designer is blabbering to a rubber duck.

Perk up with pair critique

A more pleasant and productive way is to present your solution to another person. A fresh brain and a pair of eyes have a wonderfully stimulating effect on problem solving. In order to get feedback that guides your work further, it’s a good idea to prepare and direct the session just like an actual workshop:

  • What is the goal of the solution? Who will use it and in what situation?
  • How does the solution work in practice and what are its most relevant features in terms of its goal?
  • Both parties evaluate how well the solution works in relation to its goals and justifies their views
  • Finish up with a discussion about any new ideas or alternative solutions that the presented solution and the review brought up.

Fast solutions with pair design

Pair design is a method that draws from pair programming and looks back from pair critique towards design and ideation. In short, two designers are working simultaneously together on the same subject. One is using the design tool (whiteboard, paper and pen, Figma etc), and the other explains what the solution could be like (or asks explorative or clarifying questions). Roles are switched often, e.g. every 15 minutes or whenever a new idea pops up. There are several variations of this method. Pair design shortens the feedback cycle from hours or days to minutes. The solution born from it is most likely of a better quality than one that is created working solo.

If this tickles your fancy, take a look at the following links:

Other design methods that include critical evaluation of the functionality of solutions are design-studio, design-sprints and, of course, usability testing or approval testing of a functioning system.

In the end, I must state that giving good criticism is difficult. When hosting critique sessions, I’ve often noticed that in spite of preparation and facilitation, it has sometimes been difficult for the participants to justifiably review the functionality of the solution. Luckily, design critique is a skill that one can practice, and the more often you do, the better you become at it. This is definitely a thing that should be included on the agenda of an agile development project.

Are you looking for a wider lens for creative problem solving? Check out our service design offering and get in touch!