Do You Really Need a Design Review? (Spoiler Alert: Yes. Here’s How It’s Done.)
Design reviews are key tools in any business. But what makes the difference between a genuinely useful design review and a time-wasting meeting?
We’re going to give you our step-by-step process so you can get the most out of your next design review. Having a productive team is essential for maintaining a successful business, and a design review is a great way to keep your team on track and highlight any issues. However, you definitely don’t want your meeting to devolve into arguments, and everyone to walk away feeling less motivated. Rather, you need to use this type of evaluation to get everyone on the same page and working effectively.
Depending on the type of team you have, you could consider creating a checklist for a formal design review. If you have a clear list of rules for every meeting, you should find that everything will run more smoothly. However, more energetic teams might find this type of agenda limiting, so choose the best meeting style for your business.
1. Set Up the Conceptual Design Review
The best way to plan out any review is to start with your goals and objectives. (You can begin by using our SMART goals template.) You can pick a small selection of questions that the meeting needs to answer. This process could involve asking what the issues are with a certain aspect of your product, or asking if an element or process could be simplified.
When you send out your invitations, clearly lay out what each person needs to bring to the meeting. The biggest mistake you can make is starting a meeting if your team isn’t prepared for. You can avoid this problem by both sending out detailed invitations and reminders one week before the meeting.
Alongside the list of everything, your group needs to bring with them, think about what you need. You are the facilitator, so you have the responsibility of making sure the meeting runs smoothly. To get the discussion flowing and guide the conversation to the topics that everyone should understand, prepare a list of questions you can ask.
2. Have the Right Attendees
The point of a review is to challenge your creative team and push their ideas further. This goal is much harder to achieve when everyone has been working on the same project. To see both the success and the potential problem of any designs, it’s important to introduce outside perspectives.
One way of achieving this goal is setting up a small panel of independent reviewers from different disciplines to give a fresh take on your designs. Perhaps everyone participating in a review isn’t a designer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have valid input. Sometimes, someone outside the project is required to be able to see it clearly.
Keep the group small. If everyone in the entire business shows up to discuss your designs, you’re going to have a lot of irrelevant feedback and a very long meeting. The smaller the group, the more detailed feedback you’re going to produce. You need to find the balance between a variety of perspectives, as well as relevant opinions.
A good starting point is 6 people. But depending on your team and the topics you need to cover, you might find you need more or less. There is no one-size-fits-all for every design review out there, so focus on what will actually be beneficial for your team members.
3. Remain Objective
When you have become invested in your design or product, it can be difficult to think objectively so this rule can be one of the hardest to follow. Everyone in the room needs to be comfortable with being questioned about their decision-making. In a good review, every decision about the product should be questioned, so it’s important for everyone involved to understand why each element has been designed in a certain way.
It may be difficult to remain calm if you feel like someone is disagreeing with you about something you’re passionate about. You need to be open and honest. If you or someone else feels like something could be done better, it’s important to voice that, but keep in mind that you may be criticizing something that someone has spent a lot of time on.
Walk into your design review with an open mind, and keep in mind that everyone won’t agree with you 100% of the time. Clearly map out your reasoning, so you can calmly explain everything.
4. Stay Focused
A design review shouldn’t be a lengthy process. You’re not pitching a brand-new idea. Start the meeting with a brief recap that will get everyone on the same page about what has happened so far. This recap should be kept as short as possible, keeping in mind that most people in the room already know about the project’s progress.
Keep the meeting focused. You are attending for a specific purpose, so stick to it. To control the flow of conversation, go back to the list of questions you prepared. When you notice someone going off on a tangent, gently guide them back to the key topic. (That includes you! Make sure you don’t get off-topic and stay focused on the task at hand.)
4. Watch Your Language
Remember, others may feel passionate about their design choices, so be considerate with your words.
How do I do that?
Avoid absolutes, such as “This looks horrible.” Try to gently guide the discussion toward ways to improve an element. One tactic is to ask a question, instead of saying you don’t like something. For example, ask: “Have you tried doing it this way?” Or “Have you explored the effect of changing X in this element?”
Also, remember to shout out the positives!
It can be easy to focus on what isn’t working but try to also talk about what you like. This focus will help your team feel more motivated about implementing any constructive criticism.
Everyone has a voice. There shouldn’t be a single person in the room who doesn’t voice their feedback. Listen to what each individual has to say. Give everyone the time to voice their opinion. If you someone hasn’t contributed, directly ask them for their feedback. They are in the meeting for a reason, so make sure you find out what they think.
5. Engage Your Audience
Design reviews aren’t known for their party atmosphere and entertainment levels. So how can you keep everyone engaged without bribing them with cake beforehand? (But remember, that is a valid option.)
Step 1 – Keep it short. There’s nothing worse than a meeting that drags on and causes everyone’s eyelids to start drooping. A fast-paced meeting forces everyone to stay focused and think on their feet.
Step 2 – Remember, it’s not a social gathering. Stick to the agenda! Although you want to gather everyone’s opinions, it shouldn’t include irrelevant feedback. Something that one of your team members has to say about the economy might be interesting, but unless it’s directly related to the product you’re currently discussing, shut it down. Keep the meeting as specific as possible.
Step 3 – Critique early. If a designer has spent a long time working on something, they’re not going to react well if there’s a lot of negative feedback. Instead, have meetings as regularly as necessary, which will help keep them short and engaging.
Step 4 – Don’t schedule a review right at the end of the day, as people will be far less focused and engaged. They will also feel more anxious to end the meeting and get home, rather than share their feedback.
Step 5 – Keep it simple. In the best design reviews, everyone in the room won’t be from the same discipline. In other words, if you use jargon or complicated terms, you might leave them at a disadvantage. When this happens, people may just switch off, rather than try to follow the discussion. Instead, why not keep the language simple and easy to understand, which will help the meeting flow well and keep everyone in the room engaged?
And finally, Step 6 – If at any point the meeting descends into chaos, move on. Spending an hour arguing one color choice isn’t helpful for anyone. Regain control by moving that discussion to a backburner. You can either come back to it later in the meeting after everyone has calmed down or address it in a different meeting with other participants. Feedback
To get useful feedback, the lead designer needs to clearly state the type of feedback they ’re looking for. It’s also helpful if they explain the type of comments that won’t be helpful. For example, something may already be set in stone. Alternatively, it may be in the very early stages, so not ready to be discussed.
Capture all the feedback. The best way is to take notes during the meeting and digitally share all the comments. You can use a digital solution such as Filestage to directly comment on your designs. If you’re running the meeting, it may be smarter to ask someone else to take notes so you can focus on facilitating the review. That way, it will be easy for everyone involved to access and review the feedback during the meeting. Also, when the notes are digital, designers will have the chance to follow up after the meeting.
It’s essential to organize your feedback. Every comment made in the meeting may not be vitally useful and relevant. So consider asking the lead designer to look over the digital notes and create a list of actionable or relevant feedback.
After the Design Review Meeting
Decisions made in a design review may not result in instant change. It can be easy for reviewers to get frustrated if they feel their opinions haven’t been heard. Digital notes are useful resources so everyone involved can see a clear list of the actionable feedback points from the meeting. You can add a simple email with a list of the key points raised and tactics for moving forward. But be aware of email ping-pong. Getting lost in long email chains can dramatically reduce your productivity.
The aim of a review is to get multiple opinions on a topic from various departments. This type of meeting encourages interdisciplinary work and cooperation, so following up with reviewers via a comment on Filestage can help everyone feel included and motivated.
Remind your team about upcoming milestones. What do you hope the next design review will look like? Inform everyone about where they should individually be by the next meeting, as well as where the product (or content you’re reviewing) as a whole should be. In this way, you can motivate your team and give them clear deadlines to prepare for the next design review.
Design Review Checklist
Use this design review checklist to make sure that you don’t forget anything:
- Be clear on your list of questions which need answering during the review.
- Formally introduce every team member and why you have chosen them for the review.
- Assign someone to take notes digitally.
- Briefly recap the product to bring everyone up to speed.
- Clearly set out the goals and objectives for this review.
- Highlight the types of feedback the designers are looking for.
- Focus on one element of the product at a time. Allow everyone to give their thoughts on what is good about it and then what could be improved.
- Discuss each potential issue or improvement with the designer responsible.
- If the discussion gets too heated move on to the next topic. Keep the meeting moving and to the point.
- Have your list of questions been answered?
- Review the goals and objectives of the meeting, have they been achieved?
- After the review remember to give everyone access to the digital notes so they can also be sent follow up questions.
Design Review Examples
Graphic Design Review
Revising graphics and images can result in a cumbersome process. Often, it results in long email chains and a bunch of frustrated designers and project managers. But reviewing designs doesn’t need to be difficult. You can use workflow software such as Filestage that’ll support you in reviewing your designs together with co-workers (internally) and clients (externally).
Logo Design Review
Nowadays, it’s fairly simple to create stunning logos for your new company or other purposes. By using tools such as Canva or Piktochart, you can easily create logos within minutes. But to make sure that your whole team is aligned, you shouldn’t miss the logo design review. This part of the creation process will make sure that the whole squad is on the same page. You can follow our design review step-by-step process and use the design review templates mentioned in this article.
Web Design Review
Creating new website pages might result in a lengthy process. This workflow requires an established review and approval loop that helps to make sure that every design implementation is a step in the right direction. Content workflow tools such as Filestage can assist you in this process by providing a platform that bundles the review and approval process of your web design reviews. You can easily upload screenshots of your web designs and your whole team is able to review and comment in the files to provide quick feedback.
Software Design Review
We’ve gone through these review rounds many times. Building great software isn’t a piece of cake. Every iteration of your application needs to be reviewed by your team. Follow our process to establish a smooth process.
Product Design Review
Each product has different specifications. Often, it gets harder and harder with time to stay on track. Design review meetings will help you get aligned again and make sure that you’re heading towards the right direction.
Design Review Template
Before creating everything from scratch, you should have a look at these design review templates. They’ll guide you through the process of your review meeting. That way, you make sure that you aren’t forgetting relevant aspects.
Detail Review Template by University of Calgary
Critical Review Template by Colorado Space Grant Consortium
Review Template by care.org
Let’s Get Started
Hopefully, you now feel well-equipped to conduct the perfect design review.
Here’s the key thing to remember: preparation, preparation, preparation!
If everyone joins the meeting fully prepared to talk about the exact points on your agenda, you’ll have a flawless design review. To that end, It doesn’t hurt to provide extra reminders during the days leading up to the meeting. If you follow the advice in this article, you should be prepared for an engaging, fast-paced review that will motivate your team and promote cross-disciplinary work.
These tips won’t add much time to your busy schedule! You can quickly get in and out of your design reviews so your team can focus on what they do best.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.