Worlds Easiest Way to Critique a Design

I just read a lovely article on how to critique design, and it was insightful and all that, but I can’t remember a single thing it said now, ten minutes later (could be my worsening ADHD. Shiny! Shiny!).

Here is a simple simple way to critique a design, so when people say “what do you think?” you can say something actionable and useful.

How to Critique a Design in TWO steps

1. Look at the design.

Ask yourself, “What is the single thing the business wants people to do, according to this design.”

For example, look at Amazon, a fairly successful business, I think we can agree. And look at their page. Amazon wants you to buy things. Usually one thing; today for me it’s the kindle. And although I’m sure wishlists and saved items, and recommendations are important, today they want me to buy a kindle, and aren’t going to distract me from that.

Here’s another one to try to decode: Google. Can you guess what Google wants you to do?

2. Ask the person who is asking your advice “what is the single thing the business wants people to do?” If they can’t answer, you can say about the design, “Looks nice to me.”

Because your advice is just as valuable as when your wife asks, “Do I look good in this dress?”

Be polite, back away slowly. They are doomed.

But if they do know what they need their users to do, well voila! You can now match that against your impression of the site, and say either,

“It’s working for me”


“I think it’s needs a little work. I’m not getting that message.”

Advice without context is like wine without a corkscrew: not only useless but frustrating.

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  1. 1
    Eric Reiss

    Excellent advice. Particularly No. 1 – what is the single most important business goal. This is what we should have been thinking about back in 1993. Too bad that so many clients (and so many industry professionals) still don’t understand this.

    I’m hoping that someone with a different academic background than my own (performing arts, political science, and Egyptology) will finally understand that the dopamine rush we get from the “Looks nice to me” designs approved in the boardroom is actually thwarted by the limpic system when people later on try to solve their online tasks: “Get that damned eyecandy out of the way so I can get to the content I need.”

    As to your final piece of advice: “Advice without context is like wine without a corkscrew…” It seems to me that context is the kingdom: if the wine is in a glass, the corkscrew is unnecessary.

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