This article is NOT for creatives looking for ways to charm their review panels into instant approval. It does, however, contain a very simple outline that will help you structure and manage a meaningful presentation and critique so that you can get the feedback you need to improve your work. No more filling awkward space with personal opinions on photo choices. The design review, as it turns out, can be a place where a product’s full potential can be realized.
Don’t let your design review become a brouhaha
Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe, a design review should always contribute something meaningful to a project. And while these little show-and-tells can sometimes be excruciatingly painful for everyone involved, it’s this slow churn of opinions and ideas that help the project evolve into a thing of beauty.
The key to any productive review is to keep it simple and structured. As presenter, you have (or should have) much control over the success of the review process. In other words, it’s your job to direct and collect the valuable feedback needed in order to keep the project from digressing into a state of utter calamity.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
Don’t slip into creative jargon. Your clients don’t get excited about the same things you do. As creative people, it’s our job to walk between the worlds of people and technology, between the rational and the irrational, between thousands of years of art history and our fundraising-focused clients. Speak their language so you can help direct the flow of conversation.
Make sure everyone agrees with the mission at hand. We can’t all agree on a method of execution unless we have the same end-goal in mind. Make sure the room is in agreement on this. Use the goal of the project as a metric to weigh the value of anything that is discussed.
Be open minded. Let others voice their opinions and concerns freely. Critiques are held to improve a product. Let’s face it, if you knew what the perfect solution was, you would have implemented it to begin with.
Your job as presenter is to direct the flow of the discussion, not smash it down. Try not to be needlessly defensive of your work. If you feel like the critique is going into nonconstructive territory, gently remind your peers of the goals everyone has agreed on.
The first part of a design review is the presentation, when the creative team goes into detail about their product. You’ll want to start by addressing the needs of the client with three simple concepts: Purpose, Audience and Style. From here, open the discussion up for specific feedback on how the product is hitting the mark.
Why are people coming to this site? What are the most important things we want a user to do when on this web page? Start with the most imporant first. Then talk about how the layout, your content and its structure are meeting these goals.
Who is our audience? Age? Level of affluence? Religious denomination? Do we have a just a general or a very specific idea of who they might be? You’ll have a great excuse to show off your awesome tone-of-voice copywriting skills when you discuss this. How you’ve chosen to speak to the audience will give your clients a clear idea of how well you know their donors.
Is there an image or persona associated with the organization that needs to come through visually? How is the organization’s brand or visual identity communicated by this project? Are there ways in which we’ve elected to deviate from business-as-usual? Explain how your styles (color, type, patterns, etc.) are carrying across the visual voice of the organization and how they are creating the proper context for the conversation. Discuss how the styles will emotionally influence the end-user.
The style is where everything converges, so this should be the last thing discussed. Remember that style cannot exist by itself — it’s more about methods of execution — so don’t make this the focal point of your conversation, but your style choices need to be directly related to the details you’ve established about your product.
At this point you’ve presented your work and are ready to collect meaningful feedback. Open everything up for discussion. It’s your job to focus the room on how each piece is working in context. Remember, everything comes back to the needs of the audience. If you can’t justify a choice you’ve made against these needs, there’s room for the product to be improved.
When the critique’s over, make sure you’ve collected some ideas on how to enhance your art and copy. If you emphasize a sincere desire to get the discussion moving during your critique, you’ll be able to heavily influence the quality and relevance of the feedback you get.
Best of luck to you
This outline won’t help you disguise a bad design. But, if you consider these concepts while you’re working on your next project, you’ll be able to address the key issues beforehand and avoid an embarrassing critique.
Creating great things at an agency requires patience and a collaborative spirit. Being open to honest feedback and taking the time to prepare for your presentation will help you earn the trust of your team while you create stronger products together.