How to create safe and inclusive spaces for content design crits

Charlie Boydell-Smith
Charlie Boydell-Smith
May 31, 2024

I eagerly stepped up to the microphone in my childhood basement. My older brother, already a prodigious guitar player at 15, riffed alongside me. I was a teenager full of heady dreams of fronting a rock ‘n’ roll band, and despite the piercing screech of feedback from the amplifier, I proudly croaked out a full song.

My dad was our audience of one. I turned to him triumphantly, awaiting adulation and the confirmation that I’d be headlining Glastonbury within the year.

“You sounded a bit flat.”


That’s how content designers, or any creator, can feel when receiving feedback. It can feel lonely, like you’re under the spotlight and all eyes are on you and what you’re doing. And it can lead to a fear of sharing or presenting your work, or a reluctance to do so — especially when you’ve had bad experiences of critique in the past.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Done badly, content design critiques can be damaging and act as a sledgehammer to confidence. Done well, they can be incredibly empowering and motivating. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill — one we can work on together. 

The value of crits

Design critiques, better known as crits, are group peer reviews of work. They’re an opportunity to design consistently, improve the product you’re working on, and develop your team and its culture.

A few years ago, my company had a period of high recruitment where our team grew from one to ten content designers within the space of two years. We hired copywriters and content specialists, but also people from non-content backgrounds. We're also a decentralized content design team, working separately on different products, channels, and challenges across the business. 

In a team of so many new people who often weren’t working together, we had to develop trust, and we had to do it quickly. Crits provided a welcome chance for us to work together, create trust, and build confidence in showing and sharing our work. 

In our early crits, we followed rules of the crit from Content Design London and would start each session by briefly explaining them. They became the building blocks for the guidelines that follow, to make crits feel like an approachable and welcoming place to share work. 

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Tell the story

Never critique or give feedback on work without the right context. The person showing their work must get the chance to explain the brief, the restrictions they are working against, the research they have available, and the time they have to do it. They are the only person who fully understands the whole story. We let them tell that story, and we make sure to listen. 

Don’t be precious

We appreciate that feedback makes our work better. Nothing is ever perfect the first time, and nor should it be. Try not to take any critique to heart and don’t be overly attached to your work. Good content design should never stand still and a piece of content is never really finished. User needs change, so content should evolve with peer reviews, user research, and data. Feedback is all part of the process to design a better product.

Be a collective

Feedback is all about teamwork. Being a collective can be as simple as phrasing feedback as we and not you. Rather than saying “You should say this,” try saying “We usually say this.” Our designs come from a team of people working on them — not one person. Share the workload and the pressure by improving it together.

Be positive

Is something good? Say it. Crits don’t just have to focus on giving feedback to improve something. Too much constructive feedback, even well-intended and given to those with the thickest skin, can get you down. Try balancing each piece of critique with a bit of wholesome praise. Crits are an amazing opportunity to celebrate success. 

Bring a plus-one

All opinions are welcome. A crit team diversified by role, work background, and lived experience can give you a wider lens on your designs. Have you worked closely with a researcher during the discovery, and their insights informed your work? Bring them along. Have you been tethered to a designer from a different discipline for six weeks solving a problem? Get them involved. In my team, we tend to stick to just designers in our crits, but you could open this up to include product colleagues and other stakeholders. Seeing a group of people work together to make something the best it can be with clear rationale and user-centered thinking can help everyone better understand the design decisions.

Show progress

Showing progress is key to developing a team culture that embraces feedback. Use crit sessions to show how feedback has been interpreted and appreciated, and how the design has evolved. Try bringing a piece of work that you’ve taken to a crit before and then revised. Maybe you have some user feedback that shows your design is doing exactly what you need it to do, or you have some great metrics to show something is working better than before. Show how and why crits have helped, and your team will see the value of feedback.

Relax and have fun

Crits don’t need to be serious and formal. They’re a chance to band together, geek out over content, and unite over a cause. See them as fun, treat them as fun, and your team will want to come back for more. My team has held crits that ended up in a wormhole watching ads from the ‘90s on YouTube. And I’m pretty sure one day we’ll be able to do an entire crit using memes from The Simpsons. These diversions create a fun, informal atmosphere that feels welcoming, safe, and inclusive. 

Lead from the front

Get more experienced team members to put their work out there first. It allows others to see how it’s done and shows that even the more experienced designers still need feedback on their work. This openness to improvement despite seniority adds to a culture of continuous learning. It also shows more junior colleagues that their input is welcomed and valued, no matter who did the work.

After the crit

If you’re able to do all of that, the person who has brought their work to crit should feel:

  • Supported: They’ve had the team gather around something they’re working on, and now they should feel uplifted and reassured through the solidarity of their peers. 
  • Refreshed: If they’ve been feeling tired, or a piece of work has dragged on, they’ll be lifted by the team’s energy and new perspectives.
  • Confident: After getting some positive feedback, they should feel validated and assured in their abilities.
  • Motivated: They can’t wait to bring this work back to crit in two weeks’ time and show how it has evolved and improved.

Even with all these guidelines in action, I still feel like I’m under a spotlight during a crit, but I have a lot more confidence in presenting my work. I know my team will make me feel supported and proud of the work I’m doing.

What happened to my rock ‘n’ roll career, you ask? Well, despite my dad’s blunt feedback, I croaked away as part of a short-lived pub band called The Fuzz for a few glorious weeks in the summer of 2009. I’m richer for the experience of getting up there, giving it a go, and getting a bit of feedback from both the amplifier and the crowd.

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Charlie Boydell-Smith

Charlie Boydell-Smith is a Lead Content Designer at Bupa in the UK, mainly working on a healthcare and wellbeing app.

He started in advertising before working in user-centered design teams in higher education and the UK government. Although he is not exactly sure how it happened, Charlie is content to earn a living experimenting with language and words to make digital experiences that little bit simpler.

Charlie is an Eagles-obsessed outdoor enthusiast living in Manchester who loves to cook, read, get lost in films, and pretend he can pick out flavor profiles in wine.

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