How to effectively evaluate and proof a design

4 min read

When it comes to evaluating, reviewing and proofing a design, be careful whose opinion you get and most importantly how you get it.

It’s something we all do and many are required to do. If you answer to no one but yourself, you’re set! But odds are you do answer to someone.  It has to be perfect and it most likely needs some kind of approval. So you show it to your boss or your client, or make the rounds getting the opinions of your co-workers.

In some situations the opinion of the client, committee, your co-worker or girlfriend may actually do more harm than good. The simple reason is people look at things very different when they are proofing or evaluating something. For most people when you flip through a magazine you look at the ads very differently than if the ad was put in front of you for your evaluation. Same goes for browsing the web, driving down the street and walking through a store.

This is when all the “make the logo bigger” and second guessing happens. Even when the viewer is completely aware of this phenomenon, it is nearly impossible to avoid. In an attempt to over compensate, you often get the “I get it, but I don’t think other people will” and a great design can quickly be squashed in the evaluation process.

So what do you do?  Do you just always trust the designer?  Show it to everyone in the office and take a vote?

To designers I would say this: If you’re a good designer, you made your design choices for a reason. You’ve taken into consideration the demographics of your audience, the path the eye will take across your piece, the medium upon which the design will be implemented, the message it delivers and most importantly it just looks killer. However, it is your responsibility to properly communicate why you made the design choices you did and why you think they are the right choices. You were hopefully hired to offer your expertise, not just because you knew how to work Photoshop. At the same time you have to know when and how to get a good second opinion and when and how to give into ideas that are different than your own.

To clients, managers and bosses who are approving a design: Make sure you are working with a designer who you believe understands the goals of the project and whose expertise you value. Once you have reviewed the design and formed your own opinion, listen to the designer’s explanation of their design choices and with this info re-approach the piece in a new light.

With that said both the designer and client (or ultimate decision maker) often have a unique closeness to the project that in some cases requires a true outsider’s opinion. But when time is of the essence and a large test sample isn’t an option, what do you do?

Before making the rounds and getting the office vote consider these tips…

1. Don’t ask, “Which do you like best?”
A successful design communicates an idea. It doesn’t matter if someone “likes it” more than another. A pretty ad may look great but not communicate the desired message. Instead ask which one communicates “X-idea” clearer.

2. Don’t ask specifics such as “Do you like these colors? “
This is a personal preference and just because someone prefers blue to green doesn’t mean that is the right choice for your design.

3. Lay the design in front them. Don’t say anything. After a few moments pick it up. Then ask a couple questions such as:
“What is the single (or primary) message of this design?”
“What was the first thing you looked at?”
“What do you remember about the design?”

4. Watch the viewer’s eyes. Where do they look first?  How do their eyes move around the piece? Good design should guide the user so that upon a quick scan they get the main message without reading all of the copy.

5. If possible sleep on it. When things look different than you expected the most common reaction is “No, that’s not what I was thinking”.  Give it a day, it may grow on you. We all have an expectation of what it something will look like so it’s easy to have a negative impression. It’s important to trust your designers. You don’t want to say no to ad a concept that was better than what you were expecting just because it was different than what you were expecting. Instead ask yourself if it represents the brand and  communicates the message effectively.

5. If it’s a multi-page design, put the design on the table and let them pick it up. Watch how they browse through it.  Did they pick it up and open it in the middle?  Did they quickly skip through the first few pages? Did they browse front-to-back or back-to-front?  Did they spend more time on one page than another?

These are just a few ways to help get a valuable opinion on a design. We’d love to hear your ideas and more helpful ways to get a valuable and unbiased evaluation of a design.


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This project is by CivicBrand, the civic focused division of our agency,
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