How To Conduct a Comprehensive Website Critique

This article was originally published May 2009 in issue 188 of .Net Magazine. Check out .Net Magazine online.

Giving clear, appropriate website critiques helps you communicate with clients and colleagues, but there’s another benefit: the process of analyzing design helps you grow as a designer. While it is easy to jump straight to a conclusion on the success of a site, breaking down the analysis into steps can assist in justifying design decisions

When critically looking at a website, whether it is one that I have designed, or someone else’s I stick to an outline that helps me arrive at well justified conclusion.

Understand the site

First take an audit of the website. In order to make an accurate judgement it is important to be familiar with what the site entails. You can’t determine something’s success if you don’t accurately understand what it’s attempting.

Be descriptive in this step, but keep in mind aspects of the site from three design perspectives,  user experience, visual design, and technical architecture throughout the process. Examples of things to note  in the beginning of the process are established design patterns, and the navigation. Jot down some observations about appearance; is the site mostly typographic or photographic, what colors are being used? Before moving on to the next step don’t forget to take a quick peak at the source code. A sites visual makeup is just as important as its technical build-out, knowing what is going on under the hood may help to determine how well it accomplishes target goals.

Analyze the design principles

Next analyze how the designer used the elements and principles of visual and interaction design.  How do things such as space, color, texture, motion and sounds effect the mood of the site? Take a look at the elements you described in the audit portion of the critique and translate how they interact with each other. Do technical decisions enhance or hinder the elements of interaction, this is an important factor to consider.

Reflect on the goals

After that interpret the purpose of the site, and determine what goals it is trying to achieve. This step is a very key piece of the puzzle because the site can be very successful from strictly a design perspective and fail to provide any value. Some things to ask yourself here are, who is the audience, and is this site appropriate for that demographic? Are their signs that the site is trustworthy, and does the site provide an incentive for visitors to return?

Articulate Actionable Items

The final step in a website critiques articulating actionable items. In this stage of the process you asses everything from the previous steps and come to a formal conclusion to what should happen next for the site. Communicate valuable conclusions  on the success of the site based on how it achieves it’s goals, and regardless of how realistic it is for changes to be executed  it is most important to clearly state possible improvements.  This exercise will help you grow as a designer; keeping you thinking about constant improvement and problem-solving.