HashiCorp

Design Critique on a Remote Team

Guidelines

We’ve been running these critiques for about a year now, but it is still being tinkered with as our team grows and our needs evolve. Here are a few of the things we’ve learned so far.

  • Scope: We try to bring a problem to critique that is manageably presented, understood, and discussed in a twenty-minute (per person) time frame. If it’s a bigger project, we sometimes split it up across sessions and smaller increments.

  • Keep it abstract! When presenting a problem, we often don’t need to go into the exact details of the product we’re working on in order to explain it. Most often, an abstraction such as: “I’m trying to present an expandable list, but I’m constrained by an unwieldy piece of data.”

  • Have a facilitator: Allow the presenter to focus on presenting and the audience on giving feedback. A facilitator keeps everyone on track and isn’t afraid to say: “We need to wrap up now.”

  • Ask exploratory questions: When feedback is written in an open, curious way that allows the designer to explore their answer rather than feel like they’re defending their work, it facilitates collaboration rather than justification.

  • Reinforce: Let people know what they’ve done well; this ensures that it stays in the design.

  • Prep and presence is key: Before presenting, it’s critical to know what we want from the session. If we don’t take the time to prepare, it isn’t nearly as successful. Before giving feedback, we must make an effort to be present and listen to the context that the presenter provides.

  • Run critique regularly: Right now, we hold critique twice a week. We don’t always have people sign up for both sessions, but even the weekly regularity is great for maintaining context for larger projects.

How it Works

Setup & Preparation

Each critique takes place as a Zoom meeting using Whimsical as the platform. In Whimsical, each week has its own board, containing presentation materials and a sign-up for both Tuesday and Thursday. To make sure the meeting runs well, preparation is key. To enable that, we each get a Whimsical template that looks like this:

Whimsical design template

We sign up to present during critique by taking our card and dragging it into the timeslot for our chosen day, like this:

Meeting timeslots

Keep in mind that we do not sign up to give feedback — by being present in the meeting, we commit to giving it.That template needs to be filled in with the name of the task, the problem we’re trying to solve, any relevant/linked visuals or materials, and the specific aspects of the work we’re looking to address. Here’s an example:

Individual timeslots

Setting the Scene

When presentation time arrives, the designer takes 5–10 minutes to describe the problem being solved. Because we work on different HashiCorp products — each of them deeply technical and complex in their own right — we do not always have the necessary context. Here’s an example from a Problem card written by Jasmine:

  • What were the relevant priorities or constraints?
  • What foundational documentation would be helpful? If there is information architecture, wireframes, a visualization, or user stories that would be useful, present them also!

Giving Feedback

Once the designer has finished presenting, it’s time for the audience to give their thoughts. They do this by commenting on the individual cards. The goals are to share what we like and offer feedback in a way that moves the solution forward. This usually means framing the feedback in the form of an exploratory, guiding question. We time-box this to a few minutes.

3 example cards

The designer is specifically looking for feedback on “Preferred option” and “Feedback on visuals/layout” and “Should a dedicated help page be explored.” There is an “Other Feedback” option as well. Our comments within that might look something like this:

Card comments

Bonus! Extend This Framework to Other Meetings

Have you ever shown your early designs and then conversation goes off course to focus on details that don’t need feedback at this stage? We’ve all been there.

That’s It!

It takes a great deal of thought to tackle distributed collaboration, giving and receiving feedback, and keeping a record of that work and feedback in a remote setting. Re-thinking this process based on our experience and our goals, and being willing to make changes to that process along the way has been invaluable to us. If you’d like to see an example board in Whimsical, we’ve created one here.

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