How do you determine if a feature or product is well designed? You don’t just guess. It’s not a question of personal opinion.

It’s a question of whether or not a feature or product helps solve problems for users and if the product was built in a methodical, thoughtful way. This rubric can help show you if a product — including your own product — was well designed.

Below is my rubric for design critiques of software, websites, and physical products (and new features of them). It can be adapted for other design realms. This design critique rubric helps us focus on the lens of whether or not a product is good from a user experience lens. We mean user experience in the expansive sense, not just the sense of people who work on a user experience or design team.

I developed this design critique rubric to help us make more informed, methodical, and replicable critiques of both our own products and as a way to judge whether or not external products are well designed. It is used by both FiscalNote and University of Maryland (in human-computer interaction and user-centered design classes).

You are answering this question: Is this product well designed?

This rubric will help you think deeper about a product as you use it and help focus your attention on important areas that make a product usable and well designed from a user’s perspective. By utilizing this rubric, you should be able to make a convincing argument why a product is or isn’t well designed.

Yes, most products will usually have good and bad parts, but ultimately you need to be able to say on balance whether or not something is good.

Your critique should start off with a short summary explaining what the product does. Don’t assume everyone knows the product in question.

Your critique should be able to discuss:

  1. Affordances — What are the affordances present here? How well do they work? Are there missing affordances that could help?
  2. Signifiers — What are the signifiers? Are they needed? Do the affordances force the need for signifiers? Are there additional signifiers that could help?
  3. Discoverability and understanding — Discuss these two key areas and how your selected product fares with them. Make sure you discuss core features of the product.
  4. How does this product fare with the five areas of UX (usability, utility, functional integrity, visual design, and persuasiveness)? A product can be very strong in some areas of UX and weak in others.
  5. Does this product violate any of the Guidelines for thoughtful product design or does it utilize them well?
  6. Answer the big question: Is this product well designed? By utilizing the above concepts, you should be able to make a compelling case one way or the other.

The second part of your critique will be proposed changes.

If you believe this product isn’t perfect, and you think there are ways it can be made better, you need to demonstrate that:

1. Which parts of this product do you think should be improved? Discuss those improvements.

2. Provide a sketch or wireframe of any proposed changes.

One final thing: After doing this critique, do you believe a user-centered design process was followed?

User-centered design is a methodical process that leads designers to focus their work on solving user problems. It’s also a process that helps designers understand how their products will be used in the real world.

User-centered design is a process that involves users through research, contextual inquiry, user interviewing, usability studies, prototype testing, and other ways. I can tell when a product has involved users in a meaningful while it was being created and refined, and if you find a product does poorly on this rubric, it’s very unlikely that a true user-centered design process was followed.