A Simple Technique to Critique any UX Effectively

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Tried and true across verticals, scale, and medium

Every designer recognizes the importance of good critique for his/her own work. Good critique (and user testing) can dramatically increase the quality of the solution, give it significantly more impact, make you look like a genius to your boss, etc.

But — we don’t often talk about how to properly give good critique. There are many ways to go about it that all dance around the same process at heart — get as close as you can to the real use case and see if it solves the problem someone is using it to solve.

Some folks will advocate for the Job-to-be-done framework, day in the life, or just throw up their hands and say there’s nothing of value they can add and you should user test instead. While the latter is often a good answer, I find designers tend to use it as a crutch to shirk off the hard mental exercise of really trying to pick apart a design.

After over a decade of scaling B2C/B2B products to millions of users, whenever I’m in doubt I fall back to a handy technique that I now use for critiquing any ux that works across any medium, platform, and industry. Many of you may already implicitly do this, but I’ll make it explicit:

Good design is like a good conversation.

That means when I have a question as a user, the design has an answer. Not just for what I’m here to do, but also how I feel in this moment. More on this later. Let’s touch on how this works in practice, using Medium as a meta example for fun.

Let’s say a Medium user wants to check his/her own article stats to see how their latest article fared. Maybe the writer in question needs a boost of self-confidence and relies on the social validation of others to feel good about him/herself.

We start the conversation here.

In my head, I ask myself “How did my latest article do?”

Medium answers: “Where do you think you’d go to find that out?”

I’d answer: “I guess I’d look in my profile somewhere.”

If I click on my profile picture, I see a menu item named “Stats”

Medium says “Here’s where you’d find your stats”

I click it, and land on my stats page.

Medium: “Here’s all of your stats. Here’s the last 30 day views, reads, and fans. Is this what you wanted?”

Me: “Wow charts, wow numbers. I feel good, but still — how did my most recent article do? I wrote it roughly a month ago?”

Medium: “You can click your story below to view detailed stats” (grey text under “Your Stats”)

Me: “Ah! I nearly missed that. Let me scroll down and see if I can find the specific story I wrote”

I scroll down and find:

Medium: “Here’s your latest article and its views, reads, and fans.”

Me: “Perfect! I found my story. I can now see it didn’t do great compared to a few others I wrote before it. Well that doesn’t feel super.”

— End of conversation.

While the design did successfully eventually lead me to what I wanted to find, notice something that Medium doesn’t do. I touched on this earlier, but the best products don’t simply answer the questions you have, but also address the emotions you’re feeling in the moment.

I’m on the stats page not only to find my latest story’s stats, but I’m also anxious, feeling like I’m about to receive grades on a test. The big green bars are fantastic for communicating my recent progress, but they do nothing to address that emotional need that I have.

Asana has flying otters & unicorns when you complete a task. It’s delightful, but what is it trying to say back to me? Perhaps something like “You’re flying through your tasks today! Nice.”

A potential way to iterate here would be if Medium said something to me like “You did amazing last month, this month not so much — but we know you’ve got what it takes to do better. You may want to retry some of the techniques you used then for some of your new articles!”

It could use iconography, motion, imagery, etc. to keep that conversation engaging. At the end of the day, the best conversations aren’t simply when people ask each other utilitarian questions with one-word answers.

The most memorable conversations are the ones where you sympathize, empathize, congratulate, reaffirm, and feel appreciated in return.

While I hopefully still have your attention, here’s another example of how you could apply this technique to a landing page:

I have no affiliation with Airtable. I just happened to be looking at them for a reference!

Me: “One workspace, endless solutions. Sounds cool I guess. I like the thought of having everything in one place. Right now at our company all our stuff is scattered everywhere.”

Airtable: “Well, with Airtable you can orchestrate powerful business solutions with a single source of truth.”

Me: “What business solutions? How does it work? I’ve never heard of you. Who has used this before?”

Airtable: “Sign up!”

Me: “Eh, I hate signing up for stuff. Are you going to ask me for my credit card?”

Airtable: “Nope! Sign up for free.”

Me: “Free? Cool alright maybe I’ll give it a shot.”

Immediately you can start to see some great and less great things Airtable did. Perhaps the most asked question when someone sees “Orchestrate powerful business solutions” is going to be “can you give me an example? What do you mean?” The harder I as a user now have to work to find that example, the worse off my experience now becomes.

On the contrary, a likely question when the design says “Sign Up” will likely be “What’s it going to cost me?” and they address that concern right there and then with the CTA saying “Sign up for Free” which is great.

Make sure you accurately represent the user and the real questions they would be asking if they encountered your product at the moment in time you’re planning on delivering it. If you don’t know what those questions would likely be or have low confidence in them, that’s a great time to go and find out via user testing, etc.

Use this simple technique in any feedback scenario and you’ll immediately see where you’re doing well, and/or perhaps need room for improvement.

Best of luck!

Designing a product? Seeing what ux solutions other designers are coming up with is a surefire way to level up and look like a genius to your team. Check out the best ux patterns emailed weekly at Blue Moose Club.

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A Simple Technique to Critique any UX Effectively was originally published in Muzli – Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.