People at product or marketing responsibilities who feel they have zero artistic talent – this post is for you. Rating a design, which leads you way outside your comfort zone, can be a stressful exercise.

In general, rating a design is a double-edged sword. Everyone has a view, an opinion, which are by nature highly subjective. People might like things that are not necessarily that attractive but that speak to them on a different, maybe more personal level and vice versa.

Considering this, how can someone who is not a designer by trade fairly rate a design?

In this week’s post, we draw an objective list of criteria by which anyone can fairly evaluate work done by a designer ; then give constructive feedback for the design process and thus help out in creating a more beautiful, more usable product in the end.

Why you must take the risk; and approach with care

Although essentially you have no idea what you are doing

You might not have a degree in design, but your input does matter.

First, you represent an end-user as well and if you find something visually off-putting or illogical, someone else might as well. Then, it might be your responsibility to give one opinion, because, well: it is your job to deliver a great product.

This is why the analysis you make of a piece of design – something outside of your field- must be done with extra care and attention to detail. You bring a fresh pair of eyes that can be incredibly important in the long run.

Start by trusting in yourself and the opinion you may have! By rating a design this way, you not only pay respect to your designers but also ensure to be a part of a healthy eco-system inside your company.

Let’s take a close look at what is really important when rating a design without any concrete expertise in design.

The 5-steps rating checklist for design-ignorants

When you have to rate a design :

1) Consider its usability over its look

Good design is measured. The accent is not placed on making it visually stunning, but on its utility. Making it looking good while being extremely functional is the goal.

This mixed effort for both great functionality and look must be a key of your cogitation when rating a design.

Making software extremely good looking is not always the best idea. There is a good reason why most big companies go for a minimalistic, clean approach. You want your design and product to reach the widest possible audience.

In other words, everyone would like it abusively fancy, for the company’s glory – while actually, making it “greatly normal” might be a better choice. Keep this in mind.

2) How readable is it?

Readability is of the utmost importance. If an element is not readable or visible enough, then the usability of your product falls off immensely. This is perhaps the most important part.

Making it “readable” is the first step of making it “understandable”.

Some designers sometimes get so invested into the visual side of things that they might forget to pay attention to the user experience side of things. They might design text in a very beautiful manner but may, in this effort, put aside the essential necessity of making it readable.

When rating a design, if it does not look reasonably readable, makes your eyes blink, or if you have to find the logic in the text content for only a second, then it is a sufficient reason to insert this point in your feedback list.

3) Is it stimulating, guiding the user?

What you see on the screen has to be pleasant and inviting, meaning that you have to feel a certain impulse to go further, to see what lies beyond a button, or a menu.

Good design should also highlight what to you as a user should be most important in a product.

Everything should be right there, at your fingertips just waiting to be explored! When reviewing a certain version of a design piece of work, if you refer by comparison to a previous version of a design, it will be easy to understand what and where are the main things that must be the most attractive points. If you work on something very new, your duty as a product manager is to preliminary know what are the most important elements that must figure out there. Start by checking if they are immediately visible and clearly prominent, and stimulate further actions. Stimulation is utmostly important, because it brings user guidance.

Guiding users through your product is a key to make it adopted

Ask yourself: – what are the 3 main things you noticed at first sight? – are there in coherence with the objective of the product?  – do you instantly know what to do next?

You do not want your users to feel lost, or insert any break in the user journey.

Guiding a user with visual elements is one of the most natural ways to do it, and if the design you review does not satisfy that criteria, then something is probably off. When rating a design, placing yourself in the point of view of a user will lead you to notice what are potential things the designer did not figured out while working on it.

Designers come with the theoretical knowledge concerning where should be the most importants elements, and it is great. After confronting this theory to your (and the users you represent) reality, tell them if these parts actually perform like they should. It is a great way to collaborate with designers.

4) Is it consistent with your brand/company’s values and philosophy?

There is always an overall message you want to transmit to the end user.

The design conveys more than just the utility it has to allow people doing something. It tells who your company is and who are the people behind it are, what problem you intend to solve, along with why and how you intend to solve it.

It transmits the values of your company, and its philosophy.

After all, it is the first thing the user sees and it speaks to them directly.

As a lead in your company’s product or marketing team, you are the guarantor of the transmission of the company’s values, and must ensure that the design is impregnated with these, and that it does not transmit another contradictory message.

The tone and look of your software should be in tune with the overall brand purpose, and it must transmit your company’s idea and philosophy to the end user. When rating a design, look for the details that could go against this message, and use these philosophical elements as authoritative arguments to present and defend your critics.

5) Where does it stand in the competition?

It is a basic, however it is always necessary to remind it:

You can not review a design without being aware of what your competition is doing.

Deciding of the way your product is designed is a huge leap forward its appearance in the competition and penetration in the market. It is an opportunity to give an competitive advantage to your product, however your product should not become a UFO in its group! the final design should be in the right zone between adequacy, and differentiation to the competition.

Designers also always start by looking at the competition. While they mainly focus on finding inspiration in the visual elements, take the opportunity to pay attention to the “less visible” part of the design: the user journey, navigation flow, wordings, context elements.

Be selective and pick and choose the things you like the most, elements that you would want in your own product. Use the good examples in context, as arguments to defend your critics. Use competition’s weaknesses to support your suggestions and ideas.

Phrasing your opinion to a designer

The constructive way

Saying that something is bad or good is not of any real use to the designer. Since you have an outside perspective, “a fresh pair of eyes” on the matter, your advice will always be helpful for any designer, as long as you are constructive in the way you suggest things.

Suggesting to the designer to increase the size of an element in order to increase visibility is a great way to go. Telling them to make an element “pop” — is not.

Designers function on a very logical level. They respond best to direct and well phrased opinions and suggestions, not abstract ideas and hints. Try telling them how you feel while using the product, or how you would like to feel.

Being concise, and perfectly honest is the best you can do.

Cope with Designer’s ego

While this is not a particularly fun topic to write about, it still deserves a couple of sentences at the very least.

Good managers know the importance of choosing the right words when pointing out someone’s work insufficiency or need for more efforts, to keep them motivated and interested in their job. The same principle apply to the way you express your feedback to a designer on a piece of work. It is important to phrase your idea or suggestion (and especially criticism) in a very careful way.

Being abusively direct when formulating your critics can give the designers the impression that they are not at their place in the team, because what you imply is that you know their job better than them. Doing so is a problem. You intervention should inversely bring them the necessary elements of understanding, and more in-depth knowledge regarding the project’s assets, objectives and overall direction. It should bring them the confidence to pursue the project in the right way.

Create a quality relationship with your designer. A bond filled with understanding and respect.

Cope with the talent of your Designer

Generally speaking, there a lot of designers these days. And the gap between the “good ones” and the “self-proclaimed” ones becomes always wider, considering the acquired experience of ones, and the low entry barriers for newcomers in this field.

Some designers are experts in their field, and when you come across one, you will know it without a doubt. I often consider that their attention to detail (to every single pixel) is one of the biggest difference between them, and someone still fresh to the trade or not that talented.

Regardless, working with a mediocre designer requires more time and patience, but can in the end produce satisfying results. If you’re not prepared to take this route, make sure to be thorough before hiring a designer!

Your designer can be a great one, or a less talented one, it is in any way not unrealistic that you have better taste that them. Even one with a degree in design, or one with a successful career — those parameters are only superficial, they are not a real testament to one’s skill or talent.

In any ways, questioning someone’s expertise and professionalism is completely valid.

If you absolutely can not agree with something

Everyone’s view is highly subjective. When rating a design, if you absolutely dislike something you see – that does not necessarily mean it is bad. Not every design decision will be logical on first sight, and some elements might not be to everyone’s taste but can turn out to be the best choice overall.

Asking your designer to create a couple of alternatives is in this case always a good idea. Taking a different approach often uncovers a better, more suitable design.

The final design you agree on should always be a result of a couple of weeks of thinking, analyzing, testing and experimenting. If your designer comes up with a solution fairly (too?) quickly, that might mean that they went for their first or second idea, which rarely leads to the best result.

Read also: A Common Point Between UX Design and Politics : Irresolvable Problems

Pushing them to challenge their own abilities and limits, experimenting wherever possible is a good approach.

Be consistent

When you do not really have an idea where you are going while rating a design, at least you can avoid to make a fool of yourself:

Do not go for contradictory positions.

This last point is both a trick and a very basic rule – it is your lifeline.

Always check that what you say is not contradicting something you said before.

Contradicting yourself is something that your designer will not miss to notice. At best, you will lose a part of your credit, and your designer will gently consider that you are not made for this job.

At worst, he will not forgive you for the extra work you give him by always changing your mind, which can have quite bad consequences on your team’s workflow and efficiency.

The end user as the ultimate benchmark

When you first start rating a design, always have the end user in mind. This is the the only real right mindset to approach such a task, and you can always rely on this point of view to produce effective and useful conclusions.

Read also: Creating UI with the right mindset

How will someone else feel when they see or use the final product? What will be their overall impression and would they want to come back to the application after using it for the first time?  Those are questions you should ask yourself as well as your designer.

Questions will rise by themselves in a natural manner. This logical, intuitive approach is natural to everyone regardless of their profession and expertise.

This approach for rating a design is the ultimate authority argument, however it always implies a part of the unknown. By adopting it, you will both prove to your designer that you understand their craft, and value the end result and how it relates to a consumer.

TL;DR – Rating a design :

The 5-steps rating checklist for design-ignorants:

  1. Usability over look
  2. Readability
  3. User stimulation
  4. Consistency with brand / company philosophy
  5. Adequacy / differentiation vs. competition

Phrasing your opinion to designers:

  • Be constructive
  • Respect their ego
  • Cope with their talent
  • Ask for alternatives instead of refusing
  • Be consistent