Fresh: rant

XIII.3 May + June 2006
Page: 5
Digital Citation

Do you believe?

Jonathan Arnowitz, Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson

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Do you believe in what you do? We mean, really believe. What is there to believe in and what amount of faith do you have?

I believe I'm competent at my work. They're going to get you there. Everyone is a designer. Everyone who puts one foot in front of another has designed their path. Clearly that qualifies everyone to disagree with you on an equal basis (they have eyes and a brain, so that makes them your equal). Never mind the fact that you (or was it your parents?) paid for an expensive education at a top-notch school where you read many large books and argued their fine points in the stimulating environment of others as eager as you to change the world with good design. Or, you've come up through the ranks and have earned your credentials through untutored brilliance, keen intuition, clear observation and simple trial and error—and you've even shipped products—and still everyone who looks at your design feels qualified to tell you they could do better. Don't let them get you down; you wouldn't get far if you weren't competent. But competence at design does not make one competent as a designer who has to live in an organization and struggle every day for balance.

I believe in evidence, not just my own intuition. Another strike against you. What evidence can you proffer? You learned in Statistics 101 that with sufficiently complex numbers (we're talking relatively low complexity here), the recipients of your usability reports will gloss over your analysis and come to their own conclusions, anyway. Heaven help you if they attended lab sessions. They saw what they saw—you must not have been paying attention when their preconceived ideas were confirmed. If you are fighting a social battle with numbers, you will lose. Your evidence isn't nearly as important as your credibility. With vast credibility, you don't even have to provide numbers. Or usability tests, for that matter. You can say Trust me. Believe in me. Of course, the numbers do come in handy if they turn out to be in favor of your design. Have you worked with anyone who has even a jot of charisma? No doubt there is a time and a place where charisma is just what is needed; but that's usually in the sales and marketing department, not in design and usability. If you are going to stand on evidence, you'd best make it convincing to folks to whom emotional appeal is a far stronger lure than numbers.

I believe that good design is good for everyone. Now your naïveté is showing. Yes, people of the world will experience fewer health problems, less frustration, and the feeling that they must be missing something because they have searched and searched and still don't know how to operate your software. Good design is good for portfolios if the reviewer agrees with what constitutes good design. Good design is good for users if it pleases them and is incorporated into a product that increases their pleasure: they are short on time, and the efficiency of your product is noticeable and welcome; they buy things to boost their self-esteem, and being seen with your product gains them entry to the Cool Club; being able to easily operate an interface makes them feel secure and in control. What exactly is good design? The definition changes—over time, across contexts, and between people. Do you have what it takes to produce work that reflects good design? Is it good for the business? Good for the upstream and downstream production processes? Is it inherently and intrinsically good? It depends. And a lot of what it depends on what you believe.

We are believers. Why not? We believe in good practice. We believe (we hope) in our products. We believe in ourselves, and others. Faith in ourselves is a decision, not a conclusion. Believe it; and don't let anyone else's disbelief diminish you. It's really all about the design.—<eic>

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