As designers at Perpetual, an important part of our role is presenting work in front of our clients or stakeholders for reviews. Chances are we all have had our fair share of experiences with meetings that ended up turning into complete nightmares...discussions get derailed or dragged on for too long, no one is on the same page and everybody walks out of the meeting feeling like it was a waste of time. While running design reviews can end up being painful and even hurt some feelings, they don’t have to. So how do we make sure we have meetings where everybody is on the same page, conversations are productive, questions have answers and everyone leaves the meeting with a sense of moving in the right direction? Here are my five favorite tips for running effective design reviews:
Tip #1: Prepare an agenda
A design review is as good as the behind the scenes that happen before the meeting. Plan an agenda with exactly what you want to review in your designs and share it at the start of the meeting. Briefly validate the agenda with the audience before diving in in case there is anything else pressing anyone would like to cover in the meeting. Following an agenda helps keep the meeting structured and focused to prevent conversations from diverging. An agenda also serves as a great reminder for what you want to review and discuss during the meeting.
Tip #2: Strategize how you will communicate design decisions to others
Effectively communicating your design work to others is a skill that separates good designers from great designers. Leverage design principles and UX/UI best practices that you considered into your conversations. It is important to use language that everyone in the meeting can understand, especially when discussing technical aspects of design. Remember, you are the designer in the room with the expertise. Showing confidence in your design decisions and being able to support them with reasoning (especially when there are signs of pushback) will ensure that your design reviews will generate more useful feedback.
Tip #3: Cut to the chase when presenting designs
More often than not, your design reviews will be limited to certain amounts of time. Presenting your work by starting with explanations of every decision behind a screen is a poor use of time. Instead, explain how the design works upfront, presenting artifacts of design such as user flows, design audits or designed concepts as you do this. It is effective to get into the habit of telling stories from a user perspective and going through your designs as the user. Having everyone in the room at a point where they fully understand how your design works means you are ready to transition to those deeper conversations regarding design decisions.
Tip #4: Ask for the right feedback
Before diving into any design review, consider the type of feedback or response you want from others that will help you move forward in the project. It may be asking for whether the design solves a user problem or meets business requirements. Or perhaps you want to ask for detailed visual design feedback. For prescriptive visual design feedback that may arise, ask for more background or examples of this: you are the designer but you should be open to fresh ideas. Once you probe this more you can determine whether there is good user value or business rationale for the prescriptive visual changes, or is it just that person’s very personal preference. You might want to even determine if your designs are feasible for development, which is valuable to vet cross-functionally early in the process. Start the conversation by communicating project goals which will help people understand what kind of feedback to give. Additionally, ensure that feedback being given is actionable. This helps prevent design reviews from dragging on and ending with uncertainty due to a lack of next steps.
Tip #5 Adapt to the pace of design reviews during and after meetings
If you are having recurring design reviews with the same people, this tip will serve extremely useful. After conducting a few design reviews, begin to develop a feel for the pace of your meetings. You may learn over time your meeting plan or agenda needs to be cut down since meetings tend to end without getting to discuss everything you want. When planning for the pace of a meeting, it is a good idea to allocate some time in the meeting where others can digest your designs. Having moments in the meeting where everyone has a chance to think deeply can result in more insightful responses. Another good practice is to avoid designing within the meeting and take it offline. This saves valuable time that can be prioritized for design conversations.
Following these five tips will provide a solid foundation for conducting design review meetings that will make effective use of the time given. It is important to remember that learning to efficiently run these meetings often takes trial and error. I would also recommend to always end design reviews by communicating the next steps. This may include reiterating high level points from the feedback given by others. Ensure that the feedback you plan to address is actionable so they know what to expect from you in your future iterations. Finally, always make sure to thank everyone for their time and effort! It’s always nice to end your meetings on a friendly, positive note, no matter how conversations earlier in the meeting were like.
-Andy Zheng is a UX Designer at Perpetual