Ben Ronning


Developing a Design Language Through Critiques

To be a good diagnostician, a physician needs to acquire a large set of labels… Learning medicine consists in part of learning the language of medicine.
— Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

A lot of us get into design because we have good taste. We look at designs, our own or a peer’s, and we have an immediate sense of whether something works or doesn’t. But it’s common for us to have an inability to articulate what it is that stands out. Expanding our design vocabulary and strengthening the ability to critique a design is a key component to excelling as a designer, and should be requisite for working in a collaborative environment. 

Despite the common perception as a designer tear-down, design critiques are a fantastic opportunity to develop a common language to talk about design. By setting up a few guidelines and following some key tips from experts, critiques can be a quick way to bring a UI to the next level while increasing an organization’s knowledge of design.

A few quick tips:

  • The sweet spot for a critique is when a design is 25% done or 75% done.
  • Invite everyone. Not necessarily every time, but bringing in people from different areas of the organization adds a fresh perspective, and makes them an advocate for an organization that values design.
  • Focus on how the design fits into the overall picture of the product, not as a stand alone UI. This speaks to the broader experience of the product, and ensures that the designs fit into a well thought out product roadmap.
  • Telling the designer what is good, what needs to stay, is just as important as pointing out what needs work.
  • If everyone involved learns something, the critique is a success.

To learn more about executing successful critiques, check out these articles:

Ben Ronning