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June 30, 2017

How to Run an Effective Design Review

4 mins read

Design reviews are an important part of our design process at Excella. Whether they’re called design reviews or design critiques (semantics being an entirely different discussion), this type of meeting is an invaluable tool for designers to evaluate a set of ideas and steer them in the appropriate direction. These thoughts are meant to be a guide in setting up your own design reviews and you may find that you need to adjust to fit the needs of your project and team.

Who Attends Design Reviews?

Our design reviews fill up with UX generalists, content strategists, information architects, and visual designers. Our design reviews tend to be in groups of 3-8 people, but generally the attendees should be kept to under 10 people. Other folks including developers and business analysts could be valuable attendees in your design review as well. We talk to our clients, business analysts, and developers throughout the sprint so they all stay informed and give designers useful feedback in making decisions. When it comes time for a design review, each designer has already had informal conversations with other stakeholders and incorporated their feedback. Having multiple stakeholders involved in the conversation and decision making process is critical.

What gets covered in a design review?

Our design reviews span a variety of topics including content, visual, and various aspects of the UX. The focus is narrowing down a set of potential ideas or getting feedback from others on an identified viable solution to a specific design problem.

How long should a design review last?

Our design reviews typically run an hour and cover several topics in that timeframe. Some topics require more conversation than others depending on the phase of design for a given topic. It’s up to the design review facilitator to keep the conversation moving and decide when to table conversations for another time.

How often should a design review be held?

Our projects typically run in 2 week development cycles and we have three design reviews each sprint. Each design review allows for progressive elaboration and demonstration on a designer’s work, with the specifics of the conversation depending on how may reviews a designer has been working on a problem.

What are the roles of a design review?

There are four roles during our design review:

1. Facilitator:  This person owns the design review. They keep the conversation moving and set the agenda and logistics for the design review. The facilitator will also set the cadence for the design review and make sure the appropriate people are in attendance.

2. Designer: This person asks for feedback on their work. They come to the design review prepared to show their work, whether it is initial concepts on paper, mid fidelity mockups, or high fidelity digital prototypes that have incorporated content, interactions, visual design, and flow. The designer sets up their discussion by following a few rules:

  • Set the context for discussion in a few, brief sentences.
  • If this is a discussion early in the design, talk about what ideas have already been considered.
  • Clearly state the goals of your design. What was the intent of your work?
  • Clearly state what you need feedback on. User flow? Aesthetics? Layout?

3. Reviewer: This person is an attendee who gives constructive feedback to the designer. The reviewer asks themselves questions such as:

  • Does this solution achieve the intent of the designer?
  • Is this an effective idea?
  • Is this not an effective idea?
  • Will this solution be obvious to our most important users?

It is important to not have reviewers design during the meeting. The design should be up to the designer presenting their work rather than taking time during the meeting to do the work and have everyone watch.

4. Notetaker: This person documents the decisions made during a design review and actions a designer needs to take after a design review.

It should be said that a single person can play multiple roles during a design review when you’re short on attendees, but separating them out will help a design review run smoother and more effectively.

If you are making design reviews part of your design process, everybody wins. Designers get the feedback they need on their ideas. Stakeholders get a stronger voice in the decision-making process. Just because some stakeholders don’t call themselves designers does not mean they won’t have great insight into the problems being solved. As always, design is a team sport and works best when a variety of perspectives are considered.

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