How do you lead an effective design critique?

How do you lead a design critique to get the best possible design — and results — for your marketing materials?

At last years CASE conference, Hillary Babick from MassArt and I presented a session on client-designer communication. We shared the following steps that will not only improve the visual design but also allow team members to reach consensus in an efficient, objective process.

Step 1: Make sure all stakeholders are present for a live discussion.

Have you experienced a design project “blow up” because a key stakeholder’s input was not available earlier? This is easily avoidable if you can get all the stakeholders together early in the process for live discussions.

While it is not always possible to have everyone present, strive for that. Delaying a design critique for a few days until everyone is available will save you time in the long run.

Step 2: To start the critique, remind everyone of the strategy identified at the beginning of the project.

  • What are our goals for the piece? (donations, awareness, sign up, etc.)
  • Who is the audience?
  • What are our brand attributes?
  • What are the constraints (paper size, number of colors, budget, style guide, etc.)

Step 3: Ask yourself, does the design work based on our strategy?

Don’t ask yourself “do I like the design” because that generates subjective vs strategic responses and leads to defensive reactions. To create effective design, it is not relevant if the design or marketing teams personally like the design. What matters most is that the design works for the goals, audience, brand, and constraints.

Step 4: Focus your feedback on stating problems versus giving solutions.

Rather than requesting “please make the sign-up button bigger,” state that the call to action needs to be more prominent.

You will get the most value if you let the professionals make the design decisions to resolve the issues you are stating. Instead of making the button bigger, the designer may have more effective and elegant solutions; such as changing the color or moving it to a more prominent location — and maybe even making it bigger.


If you would like to get more helpful tips on how to improve the process with your design team, we offer a 1-hour workshop teaching the 5 fundamental graphic design principles which will give you the vocabulary and an easy 5-step process for design evaluation.