The following experts have contributed answers to this month’s edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Dana Chisnell—Principal Consultant at UsabilityWorks; Coauthor of Handbook of Usability Testing
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Tobias Komischke—Director of User Experience, Infragistics
- Traci Lepore—Senior User Experience Designer at Bridgeline Digital; UXmatters columnist
- Catalina Naranjo-Bock—User Experience Design Researcher at Yahoo!; UXmatters columnist
- Whitney Quesenbery—Principal Consultant at Whitney Interactive Design; Past-President, Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA); Fellow, Society for Technical Communications (STC); UXmatters columnist
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
- Jo Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Q: How do you conduct a well-run critique?—from a UXmatters reader
“I’m assuming that this is a design or technique critique within a UX team, not an expert review,” replies Whitney. “The first rule is to avoid personalizing your criticism. My scenic design teacher told us to always come to a meeting with a drawing or some other artifact, so the discussion would be about it, not about you. Keep the discussion focused on your goals: the design—or whatever you are critiquing—is neutral. The question is whether it’s appropriate for the project.
“Think about your personas and how they would view the design rather than how you view it. In user experience, it’s not about our own opinions or aesthetic, but about how well something works for the audience. Using the technique of a persona-led review allow you to have a conversation about how specific types of users might react.
“Make it a reflective process. A critique can be like holding up a mirror—or several of them—to your work. Sometimes the best critique is the one you give your own work. Let the person whose work is being critiqued come to the conclusions, so they will own them and be able to act on them. This prevents the natural tendency to be defensive.
“Finally, when critiquing others’ work, remember that there’s a person—or several people—who may have worked very hard on a design. Assume that they didn’t deliberately set out to create something that is bad or that penalizes users. Consider their feelings in the way you conduct the critique.”
“The most important success factor in running a critique is to keep opinions out of it,” advises Traci. “Yes, I realize the irony of that statement. The quickest route to argument, frustration, and unproductive feedback is to let people say ‘I like’ or ‘I don't like’ something without any further qualification. To help stop that runaround, communicate some clear design principles that you are trying to achieve—for example, making the design clean, raising information to the top, showing the relationships between parts clearly and articulately—before starting the review, as well as key points from user data or business goals or branding criteria that you’re trying to achieve. And ask that people couch their feedback in those terms, so ‘I like it’ becomes ‘I like it because all of the critical information is here’ or ‘I don’t like it because this color doesn’t express the branding criteria.’ Make it a rule that all feedback has to have qualifiers.”
“Discussing Design is an excellent collection of resources that center around conducting meaningful design critiques, from the perspective of both the person seeking feedback, as well as the person giving feedback,” recommends Catalina.