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During a project build, it is necessary to evaluate the product design and development against project requirements and outcomes. A design review is a step of development that measures project success and prioritizes the next steps or features to continue developing. Design reviews are nothing new. My grandfather, who was a draftsman in the auto industry, would talk about how project teams would get together and review sketches for dashboard layouts, prototypes of radio interfaces, stitching patterns and fabric colors for car seats, and mockups of instrument panels in order to get feedback on design decisions.

A design review is not a design pitch. It’s a process to evaluate and critique current design work. The review looks at how specific features have been implemented and/or evaluates a prototype of a project feature or user flow. Design reviews can be modeled after the five elements of the user experience with an evaluation of the elements from abstract concepts to concrete stages.

The Elements of the User Experience courtesy of Jesse James Garrett

Setting up a Design Review

Before the design review, it is important to set some constraints and guidelines for the session. These should include restating the project and business goals that stakeholders want to be achieved, and the project timeline and deliverables (include completed and outstanding project items). Additional constraints include what can and cannot be changed, i.e. navigation or content. A checklist can help direct a design review in the right direction.

Always ask, “Is continuity of the UX being maintained?”

State the overall goal that the team hopes to achieve during the design review. Limit the number of questions the review should answer. Questions should focus on the user experience and consider whether the features are supporting the project goals.

  • Can this task or feature be simplified?
  • What if we remove a step, task, section or page?
  • What tasks are obvious? What tasks are vague?
  • What is the call to action?
  • Impressions from a 1-second or 5-second test

The Review

The review process should be fast-paced to capture first impressions and feedback. It is not a time to revisit items that have been signed off on by the client, nor a time to work outside the scope of the requirements. The focus is on the design decisions that have been made and the analysis validates those decisions. Everyone’s feedback is important. Everyone should have time to review the prototype and gather their impressions. Everyone should participate and provide input. Each reviewer should present their individual feedback, followed by a discussion on the merits of the idea.

Remember to have a dispute resolution mechanism in place for contentious ideas or lack of agreement between reviewers. Using stickers is a simple way to vote up or down ideas. Reviewers are given a set number of stickers to vote on ideas that are not in agreement. Green to vote up, red to vote down. Blue can be added to place an idea or feedback on hold. Feedback and ideas can be written down on individual sticky notes.

Capture Feedback

Take detailed notes on the various talking points. Capture the feedback digitally so it can be shared and distributed quickly to project team members. Avoid feedback that is subjective, emotional or does not move the discussion forward. Subjective feedback lacks measurable data/facts and can take design discussions on an unnecessary tangent.

Use the session to review the feedback. Keep the best, discard the rest. If necessary, ask for clarification on any of the discussion points before closing the session.

After the Review

Feedback from the design review should be prioritized and turned into actionable items to be addressed for the the next design milestone. Allocate time for research on the feedback from the session. An iterative process with research and experimentation will allow designers to explore possible solutions and make decisions about action items.

Running a design review is a great way to gather feedback and validate ideas. Design reviews help teams access designs in a collaborative and dynamic setting and help assess design decisions and continuity in addressing the requirements of a project. Design reviews also develop a design culture in your workplace and holistic approaches to problem solving and establishing an assessment process for projects.

Andrew Smyk

Andrew Smyk

Andrew Smyk is a dad, educator and UX designer with a focus on Mobile Design. He is also a coffee aficionado, avid cyclist, all-round pirate and HTML5 Evangelist.

Andrew coordinates a postgraduate program in Interactive Media Management at Sheridan College and writes about how kids adapt and use technology on his blog.

Follow him on Twitter: @andrewsmyk

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