How to run a design crit and why they’re important

One of our design principles is ‘design in the open’. This means we choose to be collaborative, we show our early design work and invite feedback. Holding design critiques, or ‘crits’, is a useful way to do this.

Done well, they:

  • improve our designs
  • improve collaboration between designers and between disciplines
  • offer a different perspective
  • boost morale and strengthen communities of practice
  • show the decisions behind the design

I recently asked on Twitter if a post on ‘how to run crits and how to get the most out of them’ would be useful. People said yes.

So here it is.

What’s the point?

The purpose of a design crit is to give a designer feedback, to evaluate an idea and identify possible changes or different approaches. It’s not to figure out a solution there and then.

Crits can focus on (but definitely aren’t limited to) things like:

  • interaction of specific page elements
  • a specific user flow
  • the emotion a visual style portrays
  • competitor services

Who to invite

Having the right people there is essential. The temptation might be to fill the room with designers but inviting people from different disciplines will make sure you hear a range of perspectives. In most cases it’s good to start with content designers and user researchers because their work is so intrinsically linked with design.

But they’re not the only ones who really understand how design works. I’d be hesitant to blanket call out other disciplines, instead I’d say it’s up to the person whose work is being critiqued to use their judgement and invite individuals they think would offer valuable input into the specific thing they’re sharing.

A golden rule is to invite the maximum number of people you’d be comfortable hosting a dinner party for – a group big enough to encourage discussion but not so big things are unmanageable.

It’s best when the crit is led by the designer who did the work so they can explain the decisions they made around their design. It also means they’re there to receive feedback first-hand rather than hear chinese whispers. However, if that designer isn’t comfortable leading the session, someone else can facilitate and steer discussions while the designer makes notes on the feedback.  

When to run a crit

Run them often at the start of a project then less frequently as the project goes on. Early crits will most likely focus on top-level ideas. When you’re further along in a project, it’s useful to hold crits to look at particular issues with a view to making specific decisions.

They’re also beneficial before project milestones, for example, before it’s too late to iterate features, flows or ideas.

Actually running a crit

  1. Start the session by identifying the aim(s) of the discussion. For example, we want to:
    • improve the registration flow
    • understand if the design is easy to follow
    • assess whether the design meets the project goals
  2. Point out any constraints, blockers and considerations. For example:
    • any content that can’t be changed – this might be due to legal or policy restraints, or deadlines
    • anything that’s already been built and will take more work to change
  3. Show the design. At this point it’s useful to:
    • explain reasoning or constraints of that specific thing. For example, your navigation choice might need to be consistent with someone else’s work or all the content has been agreed and signed off
    • show alternative designs if you have any
  4. Facilitate discussion by:
    • encouraging the group to share 1 or 2 pieces of feedback. Give the option to do this on post-its for anyone not comfortable giving verbal feedback
    • prompting the quieter people so that nobody dominates the discussion
  5. Collect feedback in a format you can share. This could be Trello.
  6. Share feedback and next steps to the wider group while allowing people to give more – not everyone will be comfortable in the session.

One rule: be kind

Sharing work and opening it up to criticism can be a terrifying prospect. Here are a few ways we can make it less daunting and much more productive for everyone.

When sharing your work you must remember the golden rule: you are not your design.

When critiquing work remember to:

Listen. Then speak thoughtfully.

Crits should be a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts. Listen carefully. If you want to respond, consider whether your thoughts are relevant or whether they’ll progress the discussion.

Ask questions

Rather than stating “X is bad” or “Y doesn’t make sense”, ask questions about the reason behind a design decision. Yes, “what’s the reason for…” is kinder than “that’s rubbish”, but it’s also more useful for the session – if you were wondering about something, chances are the rest of the group are too.

State what’s fact, opinion or assumptions

Everything you say in a crit is your point of view but it’s worth clarifying if something is your personal preference or opinion, or whether it’s backed up by research. “My assumption is that…” is just as valuable in a crit than “user research shows that…”. Both are better than “that should be green/bigger/bolder.”

How do you do it?

Designing collaboratively and in the open is important and design crits help us do that. There’s no set method but this is one that has worked for me and teams I’ve worked with.

Do you place importance on critiques and design reviews in your organisation? How do they work? All crit-related tips and tricks are welcome in the comments.

Jack Sheppard
Lead interaction designer

An app for members: our progress so far

In July we posted about our 10-day discovery into an app for members. Now, almost 2 months in, we’ve built the first version of the app. Here’s an update on our progress: what’s gone great, what’s not gone to plan and why we’ve changed our minds about how we’re going to trial it.

What we’re doing and why

Quick recap: one of the most common bits of feedback from store colleagues is that they’d love to see a digital version of Co-op Membership because they see members forget their membership cards and use temporary cards regularly. This prompted us to spend 10 days finding out what colleagues and members need.

Where we’re up to

We’re working with mobile app specialists Apadmi. So far, we’ve designed and built an app that will allow members to:

  1. Scan a ‘digitised’ membership card.
  2. Check their reward balances on demand.
  3. Choose a local cause for their 1% reward to go to.

This is how it looks.

Image shows three phone screens to show each thing the app can do. from left to right the first shows a log in page, the second shows a rewards balance and the third shows the total for the chosen local cause

Naturally, there are loads of ideas about what features we should include in the app but starting small helps us make sure we’re building the right thing. By putting the membership card on someone’s device, we’re creating a platform for more functionality in the future. We’ll iterate and grow as we learn how people use what we’ve built and as we test new assumptions. There are lots of opportunities we could explore that benefit the Co-op, our members and communities.

What’s gone well

1. The app’s testing well

Throughout the development of the app we’ve been testing our clickable prototypes with real members. Vicky Pipes has been leading the research and so far, the feedback has been positive. Members have been enthusiastic about how the app could change their shopping experience and have said they’ve found it simple and easy to use.

Photograph of member's hand holding phone with membership app at the checkout

2. We know what we might explore next

Chatting to users in context has also been really valuable in terms of thinking about what we might look at next. A significant number of members have mentioned they’d like to see offers and vouchers included in the app. We’ll explore this as we begin to iterate.

3. We’ve delivered more than we set out to

The team’s been super efficient and that’s meant we’ve had enough time to do more work on the local causes section of the app. Users can find and choose local causes within the app without being directed to the website. It’s a much smoother experience and this was outside of our original scope.

Alas, some things haven’t gone to plan

1.We’re missing some data

Part way into the project, we learnt that an important bit of data isn’t available to us. The data would allow us to show a member’s previous transactions in the app. This would be useful because the app shows members’ 5% reward balance so showing previous transactions would add context to that. This could be an important piece of data for future projects so we’ll work on fixing the issue. In the meantime, we’ll leave it out of the trial.

2. We’ve changed our minds on testing. Here’s why

Originally we planned to trial the app with colleagues in the shop at our headquarters in Manchester. We know the tills there can scan a mobile phone and we knew we’d be able to interview the members taking part easily. Trialling here would have been convenient but we know that our colleagues aren’t representative of our members. We realised that for the trial to be effective we needed to get the app into the hands of members in other stores to see how they interact with it and understand how it could grow.

Responding to change

Our research and insight at this early stage suggests we’re onto something. We’re learning all the time from putting ideas in front of users as early as possible, and iterating. Trialling an app like this is a powerful way to deepen our understanding of our members and how to engage with them on mobile, now and in the future. It’s this learning that will shape what comes next.

Keeping everyone informed

Membership spans the entire Co-op Group so there are many stakeholders and it’s been really important for us to work in the open to keep everyone informed. We’ve shared weeknotes, written blog posts and held regular show and tells to show exactly what we’ve been working on. We’re happy to hear feedback if you think we could do more but we hope working in this way has helped everyone understand what the trial is, and crucially why we’ve done it.

We’ll be recruiting a diverse range of members across different parts of the country to trial the app soon. 

 
Jack Sheppard
Interaction designer

Introducing ‘Open’, a series of accessibility meetups in Manchester

On Wednesday 27 September, me, Nate Langley, Becky Arrowsmith and Katherine Wastell are holding our first accessibility meetup, ‘Open’. We want to challenge the way we think and talk about accessibility.

Aptly, the meetups are open to everyone. Accessibility is something each member of a Digital team should be thinking about and we’d like attendees’ roles to reflect that.

We want to encourage people to come together and talk about how they approach accessibility and begin to share what they’ve learnt when writing, designing and building services for people.

More than screen readers and colour contrast ratios

A lot of the time when we talk about accessibility we focus on visual impairment but, although an important thing to consider, there’s so much more that can affect how someone experiences something we build. There are any number, and combination, of barriers someone could come up against that we should consider. This could be visual, audible, cognitive, contextual, cultural or something we haven’t even considered before.

Let’s talk. It’ll raise awareness

Nobody sets out to purposefully make something inaccessible but a lack of awareness of accessibility issues can lead to us alienating huge groups of people. With Open, we aim to challenge current attitudes towards accessibility and begin to raise awareness of the many ways we could be excluding groups from our products and services. We’ll also be talking through ways we can reduce those barriers and make things open to everyone.

Cooperating to make things better

In the future, we hope to partner with organisations throughout the north west. We think that by cooperating, we can raise standards and bring accessibility to the forefront of what we do.

If you have an interest in accessibility and making things better, get in touch. We’ll be looking for speakers for future meetups.

You can follow Open on Twitter.

Jack Sheppard
Open

Open 01 will be at Federation House at 6.30pm on 27 September. Get your free ticket now.