Design Critique at Pivotal Labs

December 9, 2014 Jaclyn Perrone

You heard about it…you’ve seen designers huddled in a room, pointing at things and placing dots on print-outs. But what are they doing in there? And why are they doing it?

It’s time set aside weekly for designers to present their client work and collect feedback. Designers pair less often than developers do, so it’s important to have designated collaboration time and input from the whole team. In our design school days, we used to get constant feedback from teachers and students. This scheduled crit time was an integral part of learning and honing our craft, so we decided to incorporate it into the design practice here at Pivotal Labs.

We meet every Wednesday after lunch for one hour, broken down into two 30 minute slots. This is enough time for two designers to present their work. I informally reach out to the team via email at the beginning of the week and ask if anyone would like to present anything. Most times we have two people, sometimes we have one, and other times we don’t have any.

The first designer pins mockups to the wall and projects them on the monitor for the team to get a closer look. Sometimes they click-through and project a prototype as well (if they have one). They start with a brief description of the project they are working on and the design problem they are trying to solve. They also state what kind of feedback they are looking for, whether it be strictly Visual Design, Information Architecture, User Experience, workflow, etc.


After the intro, the team moves around and places dots on areas of the mockups that they would like to talk about. These dots tend to form a heat map that highlights any red flags, problem areas, or elements that are working. They also capture corresponding notes on index cards to help them keep track of their thoughts. It’s important that we focus on the problems, not the solutions. We leave the solutions up to the designer, since they have more context—and it would be unfair to rob them of the fun part! We do this for about 10 minutes, and afterwards a proctor leads the discussion.


The proctor is tasked with surfacing all the feedback in the remaining time. They use the dots to guide the discussion linearly, while offering suggestions and clarifications along the way. Because dots have initials written on them, the proctor can call on people and ensure that everyone gets a chance to contribute. The team discussion lasts for the remainder of the session (about 15 min) and at the end the designer keeps the dotted mockups and corresponding index cards to either share with the client or incorporate the feedback into their workflow (or both!).


Designers get the help they need and the leverage to act on it. Critique helps them decide between different approaches to a problem, rethink layout and workflows, and choose topics for user testing. The weight of the team’s opinion validates the designer’s direction to the client. They can go to their client after a session and say, “I just came back from Design Crit and the team was really excited about option A! Let’s try that!” It helps to validate ideas with the rest of the team, and reassures the client that other experts have come to similar conclusions.

Design Crit has goals that span across the project, designer, Labs design team, and the client. It keeps the project healthy and opens the doors to fresh eyes and further clarity. It gives designers an opportunity to get more eyes on their design, and it’s good practice for learning how to receive feedback and not take it personally. It gives the Labs design team exposure to other projects and the opportunity to give constructive feedback that’s not solution based. The client gets access to talents outside their allocated designer, and it provides talking points and validation for stakeholders.

Labs designers aren’t the only ones at Crit! Clients, Product Managers, and Developers have joined, and have even presented! We also have had prospective clients and designers in the community sit in to observe, share, or learn more about the Pivotal Labs Product Design practice.

Do you have designs you’d like some feedback on? How about a dev-only project that is in need of some design direction? Come to Crit! Email me at to set up a time to sit with us. We are always excited to see more work and help out where we can!

About the Author


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