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Graphic Design

Tips For Critiquing Your Own Design Work

The toughest part of creating a great design is gauging the quality. When you work in a team it’s much easier to get critiques that help you along the way.

But working by yourself or for a client leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Clients don’t know how to critique so it’s up to you to guide that conversation. But what if you aren’t sure how to critique? That’s where this post can help.

I’ll share some tips and guidelines you can follow to ensure a great critique for any type of UI design work.

Aim For Solid Expectations

There is no “right” design because so many different solutions can work for each project. With that said, there are many designs that work better for certain projects than others.

Your goal is to create the best possible design for the project at hand. You can do this by critiquing your work using tangible expectations that lead to a final end result. Start by working with the client to get their needs down on paper.

You can refer to this list as you design to make sure you’re on the right track.

mockup landing page screencap

Most sites have specific goals which can be targeted based on UX principles. Think about the different goals of these project pages:

  • App landing page
  • Ecommerce shopping cart page
  • Social profile
  • Blog post

Each project will have different expectations and you need to critique your designs from that point of view. An app landing page likely wants to increase downloads while an ecommerce shopping cart page wants to increase checkouts.

Both designs have certain goals and your job is to create a page that fulfills those goals. Once you’ve created the mockup you’ll want to ask yourself if the design work really does fulfill those goals or not.

Try to make these goals solid and tangible. Trying to make a blog post layout “fun” is very generic. But making a blog post easy to read is more specific.

Simplify The Interface

It’s good to develop your ability of seeing past the aesthetics. Look beyond the colors, textures, and graphics to see directly to the core of the interface. How does it look? Does it seem easy to use?

Reduce your designs down to the barest elements and consider how they work. If someone lands on your page what would they be doing? Is it obvious or would they need to play around to figure it out?

Don’t take this as literally removing all graphics from the page. Instead try to see beyond the colors and the special CSS effects down to the user experience.

wireframe sketches drawings

It might help to look back to wireframes to see the simplicity. Consider what each area of the page does and how it’s designed. Is the navigation easy to spot? Does it make sense and help the user perform some action?

Whenever possible you should remove excess elements to simplify the experience. Help users accomplish their tasks in the clearest manner possible.

To get into this habit you might try looking at other UI-heavy websites like Mashable, Facebook, or Reddit. Study every aspect of the page and consider what you might do differently to improve the design.

Then take this practice over to your designs and try to see them with a bit more clarity.

Learn To Ask Questions

All the best critiques come from an objective point of view. This often leads to great questions that may lead to valuable solutions.

Learn to ask yourself the big questions and never take any part of your design for granted.

Consider why you’re designing each part of the page the way it is. How did you reach that conclusion? Could it be improved? In what ways?

This consistent line of questioning can be stressful and tedious. Not to mention it’s tough to critique your own work. But by asking hard questions you’ll find yourself thinking in new ways that you normally wouldn’t.

You can find lots of great questions online and they’re an excellent place to start. They may lead to other related questions that can spur insight to improve your mockup.

Here are some good questions to start with:

  • Does your design fit with the client’s brand goals?
  • How does your design mesh with modern trends?
  • How does your design help or hinder the user?
  • How does your design solve a common problem(and what is it)?
  • Could any part of the interface be clarified?

It’s also good to ask questions avoiding pronouns like “my design”. This way you’ll keep the design work separate from yourself and hopefully keep your critiques objective.

Take a look at some of these posts to come up with more questions to ponder.

Look For Problems Over Positives

There’s a difference between being harsh on yourself and being honest with yourself.

All the best critiques focus on how you can improve and what needs to be improved. You can learn a lot by studying how artists critique and looking for solutions within your problems.

You’ll always find stuff you like in your designs. In fact, these are often the easiest things to find.

But pointing out problems can be the hardest part because you know they require work to solve. This work is the core part of the critiquing process. You ask hard questions because they may lead to insights that improve the design.

Spend time looking for problems. Don’t get too negative or down on yourself, but be willing to admit when something doesn’t look right. You may not have the answer but you at least know there’s room for improvement.

Make a list of all the problems you spot and order them by priority.

Some of these problems may be little nit-picky details that don’t need any attention. Others may be fundamental to the experience and require a solution. With a list you’ll have an easier time solving the right problems with the right mindset.

graphic design exchange

And if you can’t find great solutions then be willing to ask others. Sometimes you’ll be a little too close to the work to give yourself a deeper critique. A fresh set of eyes can always help.

Here are some design communities you can use for gathering critiques from others:

Moving Forward

Keeping an open mind is the most important factor of a good critique. You have to be okay with the idea that everything you’ve done is wrong and that you might need to start over.

But try to find that balance of solving problems and pointing out the good traits. In the end you’ll become a much more balanced designer looking past labels like “good” and “bad” to instead find whatever works best for each project you create.

Jake is a freelance writer, designer, and illustrator. He currently writes articles on user experience design for web & mobile. You can see more work on his portfolio site and follow his tweets @jakerocheleau.

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