Sunday, March 23, 2008

SXSW: Everyone’s A Design Critic

(Photo: SXSW Sketchnote by Mike Rohde)

Two graphic designers, Jason Santa Maria and Rob Weychert, shared lessons learned from design critiques and offered advice on how to get useful feedback from clients. My notes aren't quite as interesting as Mike Rhode's (see above) but I hope you get something out of them.
Important steps to take before to client presentation:

Review, Review, Review - Review everything that went into the designs – wireframes, style guide, fonts, colors, etc.. prior to the meeting so that you can speak to every element you considered when creating the designs.

Specify roles - Make sure everyone knows what their role will be during the presentation

Make it an exclusive engagement
- Only bring as many people as you need, the more people the longer the critique

How to structure a successful presentation, important things to consider:

1. The Setup – Recap the project: past , present and future.
2. Manage Expectations – make sure everyone understands what to expect from the
3. Broad Strokes – Make sure everyone understands that you are there to figure out what is right/wrong with the designs and move on to the next step
4. Outline design strategy – explain the # of designs and why and how you approached each
5. Establish the Goal – decide that you can move forward with 1 design with some revisions
6. Keep the Conversation Problem Focusednot solution focused. This was an important point they stressed. An initial design meeting is not the place for everyone to try to solve what doesn’t work. It is important to identify the problems and let the designer come up with the solution back at the studio. If you start trying to solve problems you may be committing to something you realize doesn’t work later.
7. Holistic Designs – It is important for client to know that the designs are part of an overall strategy, but each design should be viewed as a sovereign entity and should stand alone. Try to avoid picking and choosing from different designs. Just because a navigation element works in one design doesn’t mean it will work in another. Avoid the “Frankenstein Monster.” Go back to #6.
8. Establish a time limit and stick to it – this helps keep everyone focused.

The Do’s and Dont’s of the Walk Through:

1. Introduce your design like you are introducing a friend at a party – just list the key facts you would want someone to know about your friend and move on.

2. Keep the discussion problem focused – talk about what works and what doesn’t, but don't try to come up with the solutions.

3. Keep the conversation moving – it's easy to get hung up on the details, but the details shouldn’t matter at the concept phase, they will get worked out later.

4. No Child Left Behind – don’t focus too much on one design. Make sure you talk about all of them. Even if there is one design that no one likes, it is important to know why because there are things that can be learned from that.

5. Avoid the Frankenstein Monster – see #6 above.

6. Know that Perspectives Vary – you might think a design is clean and simple and someone else thinks it looks cluttered. Be prepared to expect the unexpected.

7. Know it’s Nothing Personal – keep the discussion focused, professional and don’t take anything personally.

8. Stay Positive – a client will pick up on the fact that you start getting negative, or frustrated

9. Avoid Jargon – speak in a language that everyone can understand. If you use too many programming or design terms, it will alienate your audience. Find common ground with audience. Instead of talking about hue or saturation, find a printed piece or web site that has the same color, or look for something the client finds appealing and talk about what they like about
that piece.

Once critique is over, it is always good practice to…

Evaluate everything as a team back at the office and come up with a plan
Document the next steps and send to to your the client so they know what you are planning to do
Follow-up and make sure you do everything you said you would do

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