How it Works: A Critical Discussion on Web Design

What does the word critique really mean? The dictionary defines it as a “critical discussion of a specified topic”. So what will such a dissection of web design entail? In two words, it can be called: design principles. But just what are these design principles? We can go one step further by saying that it incorporates the design theories of typography, usability, visual design, user interface et al. It is everything that a designer should consider while working towards his/her goal.

A good understanding of this will enable you to grasp the language and get to know the measures you require to effectively discuss this vast subject.

In my interaction with many designers regarding what constitutes a functional critique, I found that a majority of them believe that it depends mostly on getting absorbed with the design. Post all this research, I have concluded that a high-quality critique is one that reacts by instinct, uses context and a perception of it and then transforms it into a communication that is both conversational and constructive.

Designing is Team Work

Generally speaking, designing is team work. Designers work together or sometimes collaborate with colleagues and developers. This means they will get involved in a lot of design critiques, both formal and informal. You will at times be the target; sometimes you will be the one who is aiming! So it’s essential that you know how to react, handle, and conduct yourself properly at these joint sessions!

Designing critiques are overwhelming; they are a gigantic opportunity to educate yourself. If they are properly held, they are great opportunities to pool resources and learn new skills from other designers/ developers.


Here are a few guidelines to constructively judge/criticize a web design:

Make a note of your instinctive reaction and explore it carefully

If you cannot explain yourself, stop right there and keep your thoughts to yourself. Gut reactions have their value, but you must explore them. Hark back to the time you last saw a favorite website, following a redesign. You may have hated it or liked it, but after utilizing the website for a while, your estimation of it became more reasonable.

For example, take a look at Facebook’s latest redesign. I was at once confused. I think I typed something about it in the search field, which had been shifted to the status update area ought to be, in my opinion. But I soon navigated confidently and became comfortable with it. Overall, the alterations made plenty of sense. So, major changes may be disruptive, but one needs to take a closer look to observe that the alterations were positive.

Learn to speak out your observations and ask questions

Don’t ever critique some other designer’s work. Do it only if they want you to discuss it meaningfully. To express an opinion sans suggesting discussing it has little significance. You may have great passion about your art, but to get merited for it, you must be ready to talk two-way about it.

Talk specific and offer appropriate suggestions

The more clear you are in your praise — or criticism – of a design, the more beneficial will be your critique. Use words that describe, speak design language and base your opinions on established principles. Your critique should represent one side of a discussion where you have to talk in favor of your opinion.

Always take into consideration context and your audience

You can judge a personal website on how well it reflects the designer’s personality. Mobiles-specific websites must be judged on mobile devices. This can be difficult, particularly if you do not know either the audience or the context!

In other words, don’t critique a design if you don’t know the context that’s going in. I know that by comprehending principles of visual design, you can write a critique on any design at that level; but that means you are only touching the surface. You are being helpful, but not as helpful if you dug deeper.

A UI’s success lies in how well it meets the expectations

I had recently written about this in great detail. The point I’m trying to make is that you must judge the usefulness of a user interface by seeing if it measures up to your expectations. If it exceeds your expectations, it’s great.

Subjectivity is good if it is labeled and articulated well

Sometimes, a design may not feel good even after we have used much of our time and learned the audience and context and everything else. You must articulate this in such a way that it becomes clear that you are unsure about why you feel like that. If you add some helpful remarks, then the feedback could be worth sharing.

Never neglect content

If you don’t take out time to use the site and read and digest its content, your evaluation of it will, in all probability, be shallow. Content generally does not come under the purview of the designer but it’s very much a major element of design. Evaluate a design on these principles: how well the content is presented and how easy – or difficult – it is to use or consume. People may say that evaluation depends on what type of website it is. But this only means that context is twice as important.

Study principles and language of the design

I’ve written about this and may be the finest thing you can do is to furnish enhanced criticism and so become a better educated designer. To properly give shape and an opinion about a design, we have to know the guidelines and samples we are dealing with. If we don’t understand the language, we can’t have an easy conversation regarding its quality.

In Conclusion

Coming out with a great critique is not a very tough job. It’s not rocket science. If you are patient and use the correct structure of reference – i.e., knowledge, criteria, context — to get absorbed and think in a critical manner, then your design critique will emerge a winner!

Do you agree with me, or disagree? I’d love you readers to share with me what you think goes into the making of a valuable critique of web design, and what you think makes a successful design. You can critique my article too! I’m sure it will help me a lot!

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