“I don’t like it, but I can’t really tell why.”

“Once I see it, I will be able to tell you if it is what I had envisioned.”

“I can tell you what I don’t like about it.”

As learning experience designers, we have all heard this type of feedback before. Design reviews take patience and understanding but, if run well, are an invaluable source of feedback. But what makes a good design review, and how can you get the most out of it to elevate your digital learning experiences?

What Is a Design Review?

First of all, let’s make a distinction between instructional design and the design of the digital learning experience overall, something that is overlooked too often. Learning experience design includes the graphic user interface (GUI), images and photographs, buttons and icons, the user flow, and the user experience all of these elements create. The design of any digital learning experience needs to be evaluated against project requirements and outcomes.

Usually, design reviews are found in product development, but with learning experience design on the rise, L&D professionals should take a good look at this practice. It is a step in which design and development work together and discuss sketches for page layouts, mock-ups of icons and imagery to gather feedback on all of these design decisions. It’s not a pitch but, rather, a process to evaluate and critique current design work.

Design reviews are best conducted in a face-to-face or virtual meeting. They cannot be conducted through email or instant message. You might be able to send some additional thoughts after a design review meeting, but make the time to meet in person first. It’s worth it.

It can be helpful to decide on a formal process that supports collaboration, creates a productive environment, is repeatable and, most important of all, leads to an improved design. Rules you can incorporate include:

  • Have at least one design review session per project.
  • Have no more than six people in one session.
  • Bring in different people, including people who aren’t familiar with the project, to broaden points of view.
  • The primary designer should lead the session.

Before the Design Review

As the lead experience designer, it’s important for you to keep the session moving and under one hour, which means that organization and preparation are key. Once you have decided who needs to attend, send a meeting invite that includes an overall project overview, the goals and outcomes, timelines, deliverables, and constraints. This way, everyone can come to the meeting prepared. It might be helpful to create a checklist or template to ensure that you hit all of these points. Before the session starts, ensure everything is ready, including mock-ups, prototypes and examples from other projects that could inspire the team.

During the Design Review

To start the session, state the goals of the design review and what you hope to achieve at the end of it. Ideally, limit the number of outcomes per session to focus on only a couple of elements instead of trying to do it all at once. It’s best to write the outcomes on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Question to cover could include:

  • What are the first impressions from a one- or five-second test?
  • What do we want the learner to do on this page?
  • Is that call to action obvious?
  • What happens if we remove a section?

Participants should be given ample time (15 to 25 minutes) to explore materials, prototypes and mock-ups without interruption before starting a productive discussion. Encourage them to take notes throughout, prioritize their feedback and focus on the end user experience.

Then, it’s time to dive into the discussion. Everyone in the room should share one piece of feedback at a time for the group to discuss before moving to the next item. Capture all feedback in digital format so you can easily access it later. Do not make any decisions during this step.

Not everyone will agree on everything, so here are some tips to keep the session moving:

  • Avoid feedback that’s subjective or emotional.
  • Don’t let discussions drag or one person dominate the room.
  • If people disagree on an idea, write it down for later.
  • Have participants vote on ideas.
  • Not all feedback is good, so plan to disregard some ideas.

With 10 minutes to spare, wrap up the session, and let everyone know that you will share notes, so they can add more feedback if they wish.

After the Design Review

You’ll need time to iterate and think about each piece of feedback and decide which feedback to keep and which feedback to disregard. Remember, though, that you are not your design; check your ego at the door, and really listen to the valuable feedback that the team shared. Prioritize the items you want to change, and turn them into action items for the appropriate people to address.

A well-organized design review not only supports collaboration within your team, but it also helps to strengthen your team as well as the learning experience. You might even consider adding your clients or learners to these meetings. You might find it challenging in the beginning to run design review sessions, but over time, they will be an invaluable tool in your toolbox to help you elevate digital learning experiences.