How to Have a Productive Design Critique With Clients

by
Monica Galvan
How to Have a Productive Design Critique With Clients
If you have ever taken a design or art class, you may already be familiar with design critiques. But as you grow as a designer, how do you know what to look out for when giving and receiving a design critique? In this article, we’ll share our tips.

Defining what a design critique is

First, let’s start with a basic definition. A design critique is when you analyze a design and give actionable feedback. Generally, the person giving feedback is either someone in a creative director role, a more seasoned designer, or perhaps the client you are working for. 

If you’re curious how a design might flow, check out this video where Ran shares a website design critique for a student project:

Why are design critiques necessary?

No matter what you are designing, you will receive feedback in one form or another but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Feedback, when it’s useful and actionable, can drastically help improve the final outcome of your design.

 Knowing how to ask for the right feedback is crucial when you’re starting out in your design career. It can be difficult to sift through the noise of unhelpful feedback or understanding what is good feedback vs just opinion. We’ll share tips on what is most important to pay attention to when asking for feedback. Likewise, if you’re looking to give helpful feedback, you’ll also find value in reading through the tips on how to give better feedback.

The best way to give or receive a design critique

In order to receive the best feedback for your design, it’s ideal to either schedule an in-person meeting or a video call to discuss the design. You can do this on an audio-only phone call but you’ll receive better feedback when you can read the expression and tone of a client in person or through video. 

Try to host a design critique in person or via video call (source)
Try to host a design critique in person or via video call (source)

The worst way to move forward with a design critique is by sharing your design is via email or a text message. This might be ok if you had one or two minor questions that could quickly be answered in an email, but when you are at a crucial stage in the design process, you need to present your work and have a conversation with the client.

How to ask for better feedback from a client

Now let’s dive into some tips for how to ask for better feedback from a client when reviewing your designs. Knowing how to guide a successful critique session with clients will help not only improve the quality of the feedback you receive but will make your job as a freelance designer smoother. You will be able to agree on clear and actionable next steps and end up with happier (maybe even repeat) clients in the end.

Tip #1: Start with a goal

Before you even begin to ask a client for feedback, do your research and come prepared. Know what stage you are in the design process. Is this the first design round or is it a final design round? No matter what phase you are in the design process, know what type of feedback you are looking for so you can help guide the conversation. 

If this is the first design review with a client with low to mid-fidelity mockups, you might want to focus on feedback surrounding the strategy behind the design. For example, if you’re designing a website, how is the structure and overall flow of the website working? Are we achieving the right goal with the content and layout? 

At this point, you’re not looking for feedback on the visual design, you don’t want to discuss color palettes or font choices. However, if you’re farther along in a later design round, maybe this is the time to review those key visual details. Know where you’re at and what feedback you need now to move forward to the next stage of design.

Tip #2: Prepare a visual presentation

Take time to mockup your designs and create a great first impression (source)
Take time to mockup your designs and create a great first impression (source)

Presentation is key to how we perceive anything. You don’t want the client to focus on the wrong thing so it’s best to mock up your design in a clear way. It doesn’t have to be a formal presentation but it’s helpful to clearly organize your designs in an easily digestible way.

Maybe you use Keynote or design a presentation in your favorite design program and export it as a PDF. Presentation can make or break a design. You want to appear as a professional. The client will take you more seriously if you put time and effort into crafting a clean presentation and structure your meeting with a thorough walkthrough of your design.

Practice what you will say to the client, don’t just wing it. Format your presentation into three sections. First, tell them what you’re going to review today and set a goal for the meeting. Second, review the designs with the visual presentation you prepared. And last, summarize and leave with clear next steps for both of you.

Tip #3: Useful feedback versus opinion

Take time to analyze feedback, is it useful or simply opinion?
Take time to analyze feedback, is it useful or simply opinion?

The first and most important step when digesting any feedback, is understanding if it useful feedback with a clear direction for you to take action on, or is it merely an opinion to consider?

This can be difficult when working with clients. You might hear phrases like, “The colors feel dull”, “It doesn’t have the right energy”, “ Can we change the color?”, or “I just don’t like it.” Hearing this type of feedback from a client can be frustrating, how do you revise your design based on this feedback? The short answer is, you can’t. Realize these statements are opinions only, it’s not useful feedback. So what do you do instead?

Tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, then ask more

After reading through this tip, you might start to think your job as a designer is similar to that of a therapist and you’re right. When you hear frustrating or vague feedback from a client, dig deeper. Avoid yes or no questions by asking open-ended questions. It might be something as simple as, “What do you mean by that, can you expand?” By asking them to once again explain their feedback, you’ll start to peel back the layers of what they are really trying to say.

Ask better questions in your design critique
Ask better questions in your design critique

If you’re stuck, here are a few more clarifying questions that might help when you’re in conversation with a client:

  • “What specifically about the design is not working for you?”
  • “Can you give me an example of how this design could be improved?”
  • “Where do you feel the design is lacking and why?”
  • “How does this layout achieve the goal we agreed on?”
  • “Is the feedback you’re suggesting crucial to the end goal for this project?”

Tip #5: Summarize verbally and in writing

Depending on how the conversation with the client goes, whether this is an in-person meeting, a zoom video call, or a regular phone call, you want to summarize feedback before you leave the meeting. 

I like to do this first verbally to agree on the next steps. You can say something like: “To make sure we’re both on the same page, we’ve agreed on X, Y, and Z. Am I missing anything else, or do you agree with these next steps?” You want a verbal acceptance from the client that you are both on the same page.

You’ll also want to follow up with your client in writing via email on the same points you just agreed on. It’s helpful to have a paper trail to avoid implementing feedback only to realize later, the client meant something else completely. By writing these points down in an email and receiving a reply that they agree, you can move forward confidently with implementing feedback on the design.

How to give better feedback to a designer

What if you are on the other side of the spectrum? Maybe you are a creative director or a senior designer giving design feedback to a more junior-level designer on how to improve. How can you give better feedback?

Tip #1: Keep a positive environment

Encourage a positive culture with design critiques (source)
Encourage a positive culture with design critiques (source)

The first thing to keep in mind is to keep the conversation positive. When you’re mentoring younger designers, they might not yet know what a successful design looks like. Little details that seem obvious to you, they might not even consider. If you’re part of a bigger company environment, you want to keep your team inspired but also educate them on their designs.

Tip #2: Ask before prescribing a solution

Make suggestions vs immediately prescribing solutions
Make suggestions vs immediately prescribing solutions

When you notice something that can be improved in their design, for example, let’s say the hierarchy and alignment are off, ask them to share the thought process behind their design decisions. The goal here is to understand their thought process and help them understand the importance of their design decisions. 

Instead of immediately jumping into a solution and telling them how to improve the design, you want to help nudge them in the right direction so they can discover the solution themselves. If you’re always prescribing specific feedback to a designer, they’ll never learn or fully understand how to design a better solution. We want to empower designers to analyze their own work and become better designers.

Tip #3: Summarize action steps

Similar to when working with a client, we always want to end with a verbal agreeance on the next steps. You may have just ended a length critique session with a designer and some of that valuable feedback might be lost. 

Try to summarize the key points, what is required for them to update and improve based on the feedback just shared? This ensures the next round of design will be cleaner, in the right direction, and nothing is left out or unattended.

How will you structure your next design critique?

We’ve reviewed quite a bit starting with how to receive feedback, ask better questions, and get better quality feedback from qualities. We also shared tips for how to share more constructive feedback, if you’re on the giving end of a feedback session. How will you take these tips and structure a better critique? 

Want to hear more design critiques? Check out this video where Ran walks you through an in-depth design review of the UX and UI for an app design case study, from start to finish: 

What's next on your design journey?

Are you craving more design content? Check out other articles from the Flux blog where you can learn more about web design, Webflow, and freelancing. If you’re looking for in-depth video tutorials on design, check out our YouTube channel where we publish new videos weekly.‍‍‍‍

Flux YouTube design channel
Flux YouTube design channel

‍Want to learn more about how to create a stunning and interactive portfolio with Webflow? Check out our Webflow style guide so you can design faster.

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