12 things to know before judging design work

17th October 2016
by 100 Archive Team

Hero image

We stumbled across this post on design criticism from Chris O'Sullivan on Medium, and felt it was something that would be good to share here. Thanks to Chris for kindly agreeing to let us repost it. Without further ado...


“Don’t criticise what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.” — Elvis Presley

Football is my sport. Since I was young I’ve had much joy playing, without ever threatening to get to any great level. Through all that time my father and I have watched Manchester United play from a safe vantage point on our couch in Co.Wicklow, Ireland. Most weeks we’ll end up shouting instructions at the television to world class athletes paid 6 figures a week. The armchair critic is a trope of footballing culture. Its so easy to judge from the sidelines though we couldn’t come close to doing better.

The critic is common to all creative fields. Design is no different. Criticism is doled out flippantly and shared frequently. I’m sure I’ve made the mistake myself. Before I worked in real industry, I didn’t know any better. Here’s a checklist of some things I’ve realised I should know about a project before critiquing it in future:

- the budget
- the deadlines
- the number of people involved
- the business rules
- the level of technical complexity
- legacy issues in the company and technology
- internal politics
- business objectives
- discarded iterations
- the research behind the project
- the target audience
- future release plans

I’ve only been involved in half a dozen companies. But big or small, each presented a cluster of constraints and challenges not visible in the visual outcome of the project.

Unsolicited critiques are usually shallow, and ignorant to the details of the project. In the short term there’s potential to look foolish. But in the long-term it's potentially damaging to perception and value of design. Designers spend a lot of time communicating the value of design as a process and not just something painted on at the end. We want a seat at the table, not just to be Photoshop monkeys colouring in other people’s ideas. But when we evaluate others work on the superficial output without knowledge of the process, we reduce ourselves to that level.

In future I’m going to run through my checklist before I offer a critique. Otherwise I’m just another man shouting on a couch.


Chris O'Sullivan is an Irish product designer working for Spotify in Stockholm. Prior to that he worked for Ryanair and Soundwave in Dublin, along with other start-up companies.  He loves using design to solve problems and shape products; from user-research to prototypes and everything in between. He sometimes write opinions on design and tech, and occasionally tutorials too. This article originally appeared on Medium. Image via upyourlevel.com

Past Archives
View All