Reviewing Design Work

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

–    Winston Churchill

As a client, when reviewing creative work, it is important to give constructive criticism. When reviewing a print ad, logo design, web design etc., what is the best way to provide feedback? Here are some guidelines on how critiques should be made to get the end products you want.

1.  Be objective

Who is your primary audience? Will the design draw their attention? Sometimes we confuse our personal taste with the needs of the target market. By setting aside your own preferences, you can better review a designer’s choices on color, layout, visual imagery and typography.

When I worked at a bank as a graphic artist, I handled the pre-to post-production of an audio-visual presentation of the Philippine National Anthem and also the official hymn of the bank. When I was reviewing the shots of the videographer, I thought that we should have gone with a more aggressive style. But, since the audience was bankers, I needed to remember their perspective, which is more conventional and conservative.

Recently, when I drafted a new look for our website for a specific segment of customers, Kelly Glass initially said she wasn’t sure about putting the navigation in an unexpected area of the pages. So I created a second version for comparison and she ended up preferring the non-traditional approach because she felt the overall layout would best fit with the priorities of these customers. She kept an open mind and we ended up with a more effective design.

2. Focus on the big picture

Ask yourself if the visuals communicate your vision clearly. Will they appeal to your audience? Do they use appropriate imagery, graphics, fonts and color schemes?

I once worked on a freelance project to create a new package design for a cake box. The goal was an effective box construction with eye-catching design on a limited budget. The project’s goal: to draw the attention of the target market and differentiate the package from competitors’ cake boxes. Because the client communicated the project goals and other details clearly, I was able to get the work done faster and more effectively. They are still using the design after more than two years.

When I’m designing for Affinity Express, Kelly will often give me more of the “big picture” view, not merely the requirements of a specific project. This enables me go beyond simply following a narrow set of instructions to contribute far more to the work. For example, we had a team discussion before I conducted a photo shoot at our Manila facility and, as a result, I understood what she wanted the images to convey. Rather than just happy employees at work, I was able to capture the essence of what we do for a variety of design categories and vertical markets. Now, instead of a narrow application, we can use these photos for all our print and online marketing materials.

3. Stand out from the crowd

Does the design blend in with those of the other companies in the industry? If so, you’re not going to get noticed. Grabbing the attention of your audience is an important step to getting your message across. Evaluate designs with an eye toward differentiating your brand from the competition.

Poster created for Affinity Express employees

When I was asked to design a poster to promote our Facebook page internally, I was concerned that it might not be seen with all the posters and memos on our bulletin boards. What I did is that I used a bold blue color background with eye-catching color boxes in the center and a big “Like Us” on Facebook button. As a result, I got some nice feedback from other team members and we significantly increased our Facebook page likes.

The same principle applies when you are designing to reach people outside your office. We had to freshen up and increase the impact of our brochures and price sheets for trade shows in 2012. With this in mind, I researched the branding of some of our competitors and was able to create a new look for Affinity Express that built on our brand and is bold, attractive and professional in comparison to other providers.

4. Be specific on changes

Endless revisions happen when new people are introduced in the review process of a project or if you don’t know what you really want. Revisions can get really expensive and very time-consuming. To make this process efficient, compile all changes you want  and send it to your designer at one go. And if you explain the reasons why something does or does not work, you are giving your designer the ability to learn so he or she can get closer to what you need the next time.

When Kelly, Unmana and I reviewed our online holiday card, Kelly asked me to compile all comments and suggestions then submit to the team for changes. By doing this, we were able to complete the project with only two rounds of revisions. If we all sent our input separately, the designers would have had to act on the notes one by one and some points might have conflicted, causing confusion and delays.

We take the same approach with our company newsletter. Several people, including Unmana Data and Tinna Hall have to review the content to ensure it is ready to publish. We also get stories, photos, quotes and more from a wide variety of employees. Kelly acts as the gatekeeper, reviews all suggestions and changes first, and sends me one single list of to-dos. That’s one reason why we reduced the number of revisions for the quarterly newsletter from 12 or 15 to three or four!

Working well with designers all comes down to communication. You have to be able to define your objectives upfront, provide detailed explanations and regular, constructive feedback. When you master this, designers will enjoy working with you, have the information they need and be motivated to exceed your expectations. Then you can watch the quality and productivity for all your projects—and your results—grow!

About Mel Fernandez
Mel is senior graphic designer for marketing at Affinity Express. He combines his love of art with an understanding of advertising and marketing principles to create effective designs.

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