Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beware designers and other's prentending to be professionals

First off an admission, I'm an HCI guy and spent the first 6 years of my career working on front end thick-client high interactivity sort of interfaces where the accuracy of the interface was critical.

I then got into the Web world and learnt to distrust designers very quickly, for the simple reason that 95% of them were interested in designing a "pretty" interface rather than a functional interface. The two are very different beasts. Designers are often in the WILI (Well I like it) camp of design rather than the KISS camp. They love putting graphics onto sites and having complex interfaces that "surprise" their users.

Today I read this
“Google has momentum, and its leadership found a path that works very well. When I joined, I thought there was potential to help the company change course in its design direction. But I learned that Google had set its course long before I arrived.”
Which summed up for me the mentality of most designers I've worked with. Namely that no matter how good, and especially clean, the design is and how successful it is with the users then a designer will want to take you in a different "direction".

At the heart of the issue is one of training, most designers are good at designing static pages but are not well versed in HCI, human psychology, ergonomics or other scientific disciplines around how people interact with systems. This makes them amateurs but unfortunately ones who are perceived to have a differentiated skill, mainly because most of the time their designs are presented on paper, a medium in which they are very strong.

This is a pretty common piece around IT, architects who lay claim to oversight in areas where they don't understand the technology or business, business folks who know that a website is "just Excel scaled up" and database guys who know how to write code because "its all about the data".

These are not well meaning amateurs, they are professionals working in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

If you are working with a designer here is a top tip.

Get them to create a page template, not a full page, one which has the corner pieces, fonts et al all defined in a template. Then turn that template into CSS and use it on the pages that you create. You'll normally get a nice clean design feel and consistency but the designer won't like it because its all too consistent and you didn't implement a photoshop picture.

But your users will thank you.

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