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Improving Design Critiques

Improving Design Critiques

Most of us learn about critiques in design school, where a design is judged by how it adhers to design principals and the person giving the critiques’ personal opinion. In the real world a design is judged on how it stacks up against the competition. When you are designing for keeps and not a learning experience, the rules change.

We all already look for proper design techniques and usability, but we often forget the most important things to consider in our critiques.


When you have no background information about the item you are critiquing, all you are able to do is speak on is design elements. A design school critique can be useful for students but when you’ve been designing for a while, and for real clients, it only helps so much.

So if you are the person giving the critique ask for some background before taking a look. If there are some notes from the original client meeting or a summary of the design objective in the contract, look them over beforehand. If you don’t know that gaining Twitter followers or getting more views on the photo gallery were important parts of the design you can’t really give a good critique now can you. 

Conversion Goals

Every website has goals but as designers we sometimes forget that. Common conversion goals include:

  • Newsletter Signups
  • Inquiries about a product or service
  • Selling products
  • To inform the public on a topic or issue
  • Gain social media followers
  • Get readers to share your content
  • Drive traffic to a specific area or other website
  • Promote a positive(or negative) view of a person, place or thing

Not only do we have to make a great looking design, a useable design, but we also have to take all of these conversion goals into consideration. This is the one place where a good critique can come in handy. The design layout may be complete but the right elements are not highlighted in the best way to promote conversions.

Point out the conversions that feel neglected or if something somewhat unimportant like the social sharing elements are dominating another element the client really wanted to promote. We all can make good looking designs but pushing conversions is the primary purpose of any website. Designers who get lost in the details often forget that. 

Critiques Rarely Put A Design in Context

With product packaging it is a little easier to know where the product will live. It will hang out on the shelf with similar products, where it needs to stand out to sell. Websites are a different animal but still need to be compared to their competition. Print out the design and put it up on the whiteboard next to the design of the two or three biggest competitors. How are they different? Which one impresses you the most? 

First impressions really do matter. If you showed those three designs to random people on the street and told them to pick a favorite, without any other information, which would they choose and why?


We always show a design by itself when we critique. That is great and all but don’t stop there. Put it right next to company’s website in the same market, or a previous version if it’s a redesign, maybe a random website you like, or a different niche that has a similar color pallet or layout. From across the room which ones “pops” better? What elements do you notice?


How does the new design compare to the rest of the branding material? Is it consistent? Does it appeal to the correct demographic?

What Is Working

For all the time we spend trying to tear down a design we often forget to mention the positive. Spending time on the positive makes the designer feel a little better and it lets them know what they are doing right.

It is important to know the strengths of a design for other reasons. Strengths lead to advantages over competition and should be exploited whenever possible. Also, you don’t want to break something you actually got right. If the point of the website is to sell tube socks and it does that amazingly well, you might be able to promote other areas as much as you’d like.

If you have trouble remembering all of this, write a checklist and go over it whenever you critique someone else’s work or your own.

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Couchable is a web design blog created by Tyler Herman. Not really updated anymore because I'm busy doing freelance design work and busy launching my little WordPress theme shop Real Theme Co. You can read a little more about my at my personal site