Visual aspects of interaction design - combative, dismissive, and hostile

29 Apr 2004 - 6:02pm
10 years ago
8 replies
890 reads
Peter Merholz
2004

[Caveat -- I've been offline all day, and am responding only to Bob
Baxley's email. Lord knows where this discussion has gone since
then...]

> You need to get out and meet some true designers. Some of the most
> creative, talented, and intelligent people in the world are working in
> the field of visual design and to say that they "favor style over
> substance" is an insult to one of the grand traditions of the modern
> age.

I've met, and worked with, many "true designers", as you call them.
And, you're right, they don't necessarily favor style over substance.
(Though, is it such that I'm the only one not allowed to make
hyperbolic and sweeping statements on the list?)

My statement was in large part a reaction to being fed-up with design
elitism, or more specifically, design pooh-poohism, which, frankly, I
think does more damage to the profession of visual design than many
designers realize. It makes it very easy to marginalize, as clueless
aesthetes, people who deny the communicative power of something, just
because it doesn't hold up to some arbitrary standard of quality.

(The same is true for any field. Usability professionals are easily
marginalized when they spout USABILITY ABOVE ALL ELSE ALWAYS.)

> Not that there aren't plenty of visual stylists who are both ignorant
> and dismissive of usability but I hardly find them representative of
> the profession.

Then I think you're wearing blinders. Or blinkers. Whichever.

Maybe not "representative," but definitely out there _en masse_. I just
judged an interaction design show in Minneapolis <URL:
http://www.aigaminn.org/exhibita/ >, and it was clear that the *bulk*
of the entries were made by stylists. And when you look at the winners
of most interaction design annuals (Comm Arts or Print), again,
stylists.

> As for the diagram, I have to agree with Andrei's judgment, as a
> visual expression it is inferior at best. The fact that is
> communicated to those in attendance at the conference is likely more
> of a reflection on the skills of the presenter than the communicative
> value of the diagram.

Sure, it's ugly and amateurish. You know what? She's a usability
professional, with, I believe an anthropology background. She never
suggested ever that she was a "designer." She's likely not involved
with the "design" of the product, at least, not much beyond some
wireframe sketches.

This is what I mean by elitist designer bias. You're criticizing
something for not being what it never set out to be. So it won't win a
design award. What it will do is help her understand how a key audience
was being neglected by the current product, communicate that with her
client, who might, in turn, realize a new opportunity for making
boatloads of money.

Also, this diagram *has* communicated to people all over the web,
people who were not in attendance at the conference. It's one of the
most trackbacked posts I've ever written. People all over are seeing
the power of that way of diagramming research results.

> To the larger point however, both in your response here, in a recent
> post to your blog, and in many of your public statements, you come
> across as somewhere between dismissive and combative towards "design."
> I'm wondering if you would elaborate both on your definition of
> design and why you're so hostile towards it.

It's ironic that I'm being labelled as "dismissive" by someone who has
dismissed a perfectly good tool for visualizing patterns found in user
research.

Anyway.

I'm not dismissive/combative of "design" as practice. I *love*, and
rely upon, good visual design. Beginning with my work at Voyager, and
continuing with Studio Archetype, my formative years in interaction
design were at places with brilliant visual designers, from whom I
learned tons. I wouldn't have been on the steering committee for AIGA's
Experience Design community if I was dismissive of visual design. I
wouldn't have agreed to judge AIGA Minneapolis' Exhibit A. Visual
design is an essential element in the work that I do.

And I recognize that I'm not an accomplished practicer of that craft,
and so I seek to collaborate with designers. I often tussle with my
clients as I try to get visual design involved earlier in a development
process, not just when it's time to start drawing screens.

I will admit that I can be dismissive/combative of "graphic design" as
a profession, specifically graphic design. For any number of reasons.

Like, when I'm labelled "hostile", "dismissive", and "combative" by
designers, when I'm simply being critical. Designers have some of the
thinnest skin of any group within the user experience umbrella.

Like when I see Communication Arts or Print give awards to bad
interaction design, because the submissions give good screenshot.

Like when I paid my hefty dues to the AIGA, and seem to get nothing for
it in return except for doorstops printed on expensive paper.

Like when I witness design elitism, which ignores the fact that the
bulk of people doing user experience work are not trained designers,
and will never be trained designers, and instead of figuring out how to
make the world a better place for everyone (through tools like, say,
Jesse James Garrett's Visual Vocabulary <URL:
http://www.jjg.net/ia/visvocab/ >), instead make snide, and, in
context, inappropriate comments.

> For reference, the particular blog posting I refer to included the
> quote, "Designers have *got* to get over this need for typographical
> control."

If you had seen all 60+ entries, and seen how often people put text in
a graphic, you might feel the same way, too. Isn't a tenet of "true
design" to embrace the medium and its capabilities? .GIF text is a sign
of fearing the Web medium.

I share office space with Doug Bowman, <URL:
http://www.stopdesign.com/>, a brilliant graphic designer who is doing
what he can to merge quality visuals with Web standards. It's just that
he's one of a seemingly rare breed.

For what it's worth, and that's probably not a whole lot, I've been as
critical of information architects (for thinking the Web is some big
findability engine) and usability engineers (there's more to life than
efficient task completion). Yet it's only when I'm critical of graphic
designers that I receive such whingeing and lashing responses. What's
up with that?

--peter

Comments

29 Apr 2004 - 8:28pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Apr 29, 2004, at 7:02 PM, Peter Merholz wrote:

>> Not that there aren't plenty of visual stylists who are both ignorant
>> and dismissive of usability but I hardly find them representative of
>> the profession.
> [...]
> Maybe not "representative," but definitely out there _en masse_. I
> just judged an interaction design show in Minneapolis <URL:
> http://www.aigaminn.org/exhibita/ >, and it was clear that the *bulk*
> of the entries were made by stylists. And when you look at the winners
> of most interaction design annuals (Comm Arts or Print), again,
> stylists.

I was one of the reviewers for Exhibit A and while there was some
excellent visual design (style), many of the 60+ entries suffered from
moderate to severe usability issues, lack of consideration for the
user, or were just not that engaging. However, as you can see from the
selected showcase pieces, there were some that showed promising visual
design, usability, and interaction. Sadly, the former tends to be the
representative of the profession when looking at the industry standard
"showcases" like Comm Arts, How, Print, etc. Even when Cre at teOnline was
in existence, this seemed to be the case - at least they dedicated an
issue to usability that showcased pieces that were visually pleasing
and usable.

Interestingly enough, in the case of Exhibit A, I found the pieces that
coupled a more usable and visually pleasing design to be more effective
and engaging (go figure) - they were few and far between. And then
there were those that took over the browser window, resizing it to full
size (1280x854) and then launched a small roughly 400x300 window for
the content - what are you thinking? It's bad enough you take over the
window, but then launch a considerably smaller window automatically
with content that used small pixelated text with low contrast?

I think those of us in this group are privileged to know some designers
that actually know, appreciate, and can even institute visually
stimulating and usable designs. However, I don't think that these types
are representative of the profession yet, not in the majority anyway. I
do look forward to the day that either they are, or usability
professionals and designers (interaction and visual) work in tandem
more often.

After all, aren't we all after better products? Better from both a
usable and visual perspective?

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

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29 Apr 2004 - 11:48pm
jstanford
2003

Hello,

I also just judged the Minneapolis Exhibit A competition as well and was
VERY disappointed at many of the entries. Many of the entries suffered from
miniscule type syndrome or mixing colors that vibrated so that text was hard
to read or had some very basic usability problems. Furthermore, I noticed
that many of the case studies descriptions briefly mentioned that they did
"wireframes, user studies, and task analysis" but never went into detail
about what really went on in the design process which left me wondering if
anything really had.

I was in the first round of judging and the final round of judging was done
by some other people who may or may not be on this list. One item I
particularly found disappointing in the final results was the architecture
site that ended up winning. My husband and I are currently in the process of
hiring an architect so over the past month I have probably visited over 200
different sites of architects and have a lot of opinions about usability in
this domain as one of the consumers. In this competition, there were two
architecture sites represented:

<http://www.rsparch.com/> http://www.rsparch.com
<http://www.hga.com/> http://www.hga.com
If you have been to the exhibit A site, then you'll know which one made it
in. However, if you haven't been to the site, go to each of these sites and
then decide which one you would put in. My commentary on which one I would
put in is below after some space so I don't ruin it for people participating
in this experiment. <scroll down for my opinions on these site>

My thoughts on these site.
The RSP architect site in my opinion is the better site, touching on some of
the key usability problems that most other architectures sites I have
visited have suffered from. The first page has clear nav with a link to the
portfolio right after home. Photos are big and can be made even bigger. From
each page, you can navigate to other pages in the portfolio easily without
having to click back (novel). It is a design focused site without getting
caught in the trap of trying to be too clever becasue in the end, it's the
architecture stupid. This site gets it. Although there are some other issues
like the you have to click on a different area then the picture to get an
enlargement and it would have been nice if the pages of each building were
more clearly numbered and were more noticeable, at least the basic elements
are there.

When I am looking for an architect, I am not also trying to deciding if
their flash skills are up to par or if they know how to wow me with the most
clever navigation in the world. Really, I want to know if I like their
architectural style and what domains they work in. The best way to do this
that I know of is to show pictures of architecture that are easy to get to.

In contrast to RSP, the other site, HGA. has funky navigation that
disappears and does not allow you to see more buildings in one domain easily
without going back. There is no way to enlarge pictures and the intro movie
is a bit low res and amateurish in my opinion. This site really isn't doing
much for me other then showing off some flash. But it sure is designy. And
guess who won?

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30 Apr 2004 - 1:30am
Frank Ramirez
2004

<div class=tongue_in_cheek>
The RSP site is the weaker site from a design perspective. The visual
design is clean, but dated and somewhat sterile. There's no emotional
pull. It doesn't achieve it's primary goal - to convince it's primary
audience that RSP can be trusted with their huge, challenging
architectural project. If their website doesn't use the rich features of
the web, how boring will my building be?

On the other hand, the HGA site, while not being a showcase for newbie
usability, presents it's brand message with rare individuality. They are
obviously a talented group of architects that is willing to push the
envelope to create designs that elevate form to the holiness of
function. They value innovation. Visitors see multiple photos of their
craft - experience HGA's identity - without a single mouse click. Each
interaction with the site - every click - is choreographed intentionally
without the typical, forgettable mediocrity that comes with the
default...
</div>

Sorry. It's late.

But seriously...

-----Original Message-----
From:
discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesign
ers.com] On Behalf Of Julie Stanford
Sent: Thursday, April 29, 2004 9:48 PM
To: discuss at interactiondesigners.com
Subject: RE: [ID Discuss] Visual aspects of interaction design -
combative,dismissive, and hostile

Hello,

I also just judged the Minneapolis Exhibit A competition as well and was
VERY disappointed at many of the entries. Many of the entries suffered
from miniscule type syndrome or mixing colors that vibrated so that text
was hard to read or had some very basic usability problems. Furthermore,
I noticed that many of the case studies descriptions briefly mentioned
that they did "wireframes, user studies, and task analysis" but never
went into detail about what really went on in the design process which
left me wondering if anything really had.

I was in the first round of judging and the final round of judging was
done by some other people who may or may not be on this list. One item I
particularly found disappointing in the final results was the
architecture site that ended up winning. My husband and I are currently
in the process of hiring an architect so over the past month I have
probably visited over 200 different sites of architects and have a lot
of opinions about usability in this domain as one of the consumers. In
this competition, there were two architecture sites represented:

<http://www.rsparch.com/> http://www.rsparch.com
<http://www.hga.com/> http://www.hga.com
If you have been to the exhibit A site, then you'll know which one made
it in. However, if you haven't been to the site, go to each of these
sites and then decide which one you would put in. My commentary on
which one I would put in is below after some space so I don't ruin it
for people participating in this experiment. <scroll down for my
opinions on these site>

My thoughts on these site.
The RSP architect site in my opinion is the better site, touching on
some of the key usability problems that most other architectures sites I
have visited have suffered from. The first page has clear nav with a
link to the portfolio right after home. Photos are big and can be made
even bigger. From each page, you can navigate to other pages in the
portfolio easily without having to click back (novel). It is a design
focused site without getting caught in the trap of trying to be too
clever becasue in the end, it's the architecture stupid. This site gets
it. Although there are some other issues like the you have to click on a
different area then the picture to get an enlargement and it would have
been nice if the pages of each building were more clearly numbered and
were more noticeable, at least the basic elements are there.

When I am looking for an architect, I am not also trying to deciding if
their flash skills are up to par or if they know how to wow me with the
most clever navigation in the world. Really, I want to know if I like
their architectural style and what domains they work in. The best way to
do this that I know of is to show pictures of architecture that are easy
to get to.

In contrast to RSP, the other site, HGA. has funky navigation that
disappears and does not allow you to see more buildings in one domain
easily without going back. There is no way to enlarge pictures and the
intro movie is a bit low res and amateurish in my opinion. This site
really isn't doing much for me other then showing off some flash. But it
sure is designy. And guess who won?

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30 Apr 2004 - 6:48am
pabini
2004

Hi Julie

This is a fun exercise. :-)

Please see my responses below...

Pabini Gabriel-Petit

You wrote:
One item I particularly found disappointing in the final results was the architecture site that ended up winning. My husband and I are currently in the process of hiring an architect so over the past month I have probably visited over 200 different sites of architects and have a lot of opinions about usability in this domain as one of the consumers. In this competition, there were two architecture sites represented:
http://www.rsparch.com

I still haven't read below the fold, but for starters, if you're browser window isn't large enough, the company logo is off screen on the right, leading to where-am-I syndrome. Then, there's teeny-teeny text. There are some visually pleasing elements though. Nice navbar--shows current page and the page to which you're pointing. There are live links for the page you're currently on though. Then, there is nice thumbnail navigation for portfolio images. It's not clear what the thumbnails in the lower-left corner will display though.

http://www.hga.com

I'm on a slow connection, so I'm looking at a white line taking forever to progress across the screen. The content is fairly compelling once it downloads though. The drop-down menus appear on rollover--that is to say, when I don't want to see them--they have submenus, and all items are small targets. They do a good job of showing to which item a user is currently pointing, but not to that which is currently selected--but then drop-down menus never really do. There's some very low-contrast text. Oh, hell. Am I going to have to wait every time I change pages? Yep, 'fraid so. Bye. There may be other stuff wrong with this site, but I'm too impatient to find out about it.

If you have been to the exhibit A site, then you'll know which one made it in. However, if you haven't been to the site, go to each of these sites and then decide which one you would put in. My commentary on which one I would put in is below after some space so I don't ruin it for people participating in this experiment. <scroll down for my opinions on these site>

I haven't. What is it's URL?

My thoughts on these site.
The RSP architect site in my opinion is the better site, touching on some of the key usability problems that most other architectures sites I have visited have suffered from. The first page has clear nav with a link to the portfolio right after home. Photos are big and can be made even bigger. From each page, you can navigate to other pages in the portfolio easily without having to click back (novel). It is a design focused site without getting caught in the trap of trying to be too clever becasue in the end, it's the architecture stupid. This site gets it. Although there are some other issues like the you have to click on a different area then the picture to get an enlargement and it would have been nice if the pages of each building were more clearly numbered and were more noticeable, at least the basic elements are there.

***I agree with you that this is the best site of the two, but I would give neither a design award. There must be better architecture sites out there. Either that, or this may belie what we've been saying about architects having skills that would serve them well in designing user interfaces. The big photos are a negative for users with slow connections, but they are beautiful. I saw the page numbering right away, because of its central location, but it's not there on all pages.

When I am looking for an architect, I am not also trying to deciding if their flash skills are up to par or if they know how to wow me with the most clever navigation in the world. Really, I want to know if I like their architectural style and what domains they work in. The best way to do this that I know of is to show pictures of architecture that are easy to get to.

***Amen.

In contrast to RSP, the other site, HGA. has funky navigation that disappears and does not allow you to see more buildings in one domain easily without going back. There is no way to enlarge pictures and the intro movie is a bit low res and amateurish in my opinion. This site really isn't doing much for me other then showing off some flash. But it sure is designy. And guess who won?

***Bummer.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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30 Apr 2004 - 7:41am
Gerard Torenvliet
2004

Maybe of interest: Because my corporate firewall does not allow me to view
Flash or ActiveX, the only thing I see from the HGA site is a big, white
page.

Clean design, I guess.

-Gerard

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30 Apr 2004 - 2:48pm
jstanford
2003

Pabini wrote:
>***I agree with you that this is the best site of the two, but I would give
>neither a design award. There must be better architecture sites out there.

My comments:
After viewing A LOT of architecture sites, I can sadly say that I was able
to find maybe one good, normal architecture site that succeeded in the
simple task in front of it of showing off some buildings. This is not rocket
science. If someone can nominate some architecture sites that you believe
are doing a good job, I would love to see them. As a result of this sad
state of affairs, I really felt compelled to give RSP architects an award
for thinking about *some* of the usability issues at hand because they were
head and shoulders above most of their competitors. Granted, when I looked,
I focused on architecture sites for architects in Northern California who
have at least one residential building in their portfolio. It could be the
case the commercial architects or architects in other parts of the country
do get it. But that seems unlikely. Or maybe I am just grumpy. :-)

Julie

_____

From: Pabini Gabriel-Petit [mailto:pabini at earthlink.net]
Sent: Friday, April 30, 2004 4:49 AM
To: Julie Stanford; discuss at interactiondesigners.com
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Visual aspects of interaction design -
combative,dismissive, and hostile

Hi Julie

This is a fun exercise. :-)

Please see my responses below...

Pabini Gabriel-Petit

You wrote:
One item I particularly found disappointing in the final results was the
architecture site that ended up winning. My husband and I are currently in
the process of hiring an architect so over the past month I have probably
visited over 200 different sites of architects and have a lot of opinions
about usability in this domain as one of the consumers. In this competition,
there were two architecture sites represented:

<http://www.rsparch.com> http://www.rsparch.com

I still haven't read below the fold, but for starters, if you're browser
window isn't large enough, the company logo is off screen on the right,
leading to where-am-I syndrome. Then, there's teeny-teeny text. There are
some visually pleasing elements though. Nice navbar--shows current page and
the page to which you're pointing. There are live links for the page you're
currently on though. Then, there is nice thumbnail navigation for portfolio
images. It's not clear what the thumbnails in the lower-left corner will
display though.

<http://www.hga.com> http://www.hga.com

I'm on a slow connection, so I'm looking at a white line taking forever to
progress across the screen. The content is fairly compelling once it
downloads though. The drop-down menus appear on rollover--that is to say,
when I don't want to see them--they have submenus, and all items are small
targets. They do a good job of showing to which item a user is currently
pointing, but not to that which is currently selected--but then drop-down
menus never really do. There's some very low-contrast text. Oh, hell. Am I
going to have to wait every time I change pages? Yep, 'fraid so. Bye. There
may be other stuff wrong with this site, but I'm too impatient to find out
about it.
If you have been to the exhibit A site, then you'll know which one made it
in. However, if you haven't been to the site, go to each of these sites and
then decide which one you would put in. My commentary on which one I would
put in is below after some space so I don't ruin it for people participating
in this experiment. <scroll down for my opinions on these site>

I haven't. What is it's URL?

My thoughts on these site.
The RSP architect site in my opinion is the better site, touching on some of
the key usability problems that most other architectures sites I have
visited have suffered from. The first page has clear nav with a link to the
portfolio right after home. Photos are big and can be made even bigger. From
each page, you can navigate to other pages in the portfolio easily without
having to click back (novel). It is a design focused site without getting
caught in the trap of trying to be too clever becasue in the end, it's the
architecture stupid. This site gets it. Although there are some other issues
like the you have to click on a different area then the picture to get an
enlargement and it would have been nice if the pages of each building were
more clearly numbered and were more noticeable, at least the basic elements
are there.

***I agree with you that this is the best site of the two, but I would give
neither a design award. There must be better architecture sites out there.
Either that, or this may belie what we've been saying about architects
having skills that would serve them well in designing user interfaces. The
big photos are a negative for users with slow connections, but they are
beautiful. I saw the page numbering right away, because of its central
location, but it's not there on all pages.

When I am looking for an architect, I am not also trying to deciding if
their flash skills are up to par or if they know how to wow me with the most
clever navigation in the world. Really, I want to know if I like their
architectural style and what domains they work in. The best way to do this
that I know of is to show pictures of architecture that are easy to get to.

***Amen.

In contrast to RSP, the other site, HGA. has funky navigation that
disappears and does not allow you to see more buildings in one domain easily
without going back. There is no way to enlarge pictures and the intro movie
is a bit low res and amateurish in my opinion. This site really isn't doing
much for me other then showing off some flash. But it sure is designy. And
guess who won?

***Bummer.

_____

_______________________________________________
Interaction Design Discussion List
discuss at interactiondesigners.com
--
to change your options (unsubscribe or set digest):
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--
Questions: lists at interactiondesigners.com
--
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3 May 2004 - 1:33pm
Bob Baxley
2004

Thanks for your response Peter. Obviously your comments struck a nerve
with me and over the weekend I had some insight as to why. Independent
of the specific content of our conversation, I think an exploration of
the style and meta-conversation has some value for the list. To wit...

There are two main threads that grabbed my attention. The first is the
notion that Andrei and I were being elitist by criticizing the visual
design of the diagram you noted.

The charge that designers are elitists when they pass judgment on the
communicative or aesthetic value of a visual artifact has always struck
me as inherently unfair. Designers are professional visual
communicators who have spent an unusual amount of of their lives
analyzing and creating visual expressions. The purposely expose
themselves to significantly more artifacts than other professionals and
through that experience arrive at a sense of taste different than the
mainstream. Perhaps more particular, perhaps more rarified, but also
more informed and more experienced.

What I've never understood is how the opinion of trained professional
designers can be dismissed as elitist when the opinion of other trained
professionals is respected. When a trained accountant offers their
professional opinion on a company's financial statements it's respected
as an audit. Similarly, when an attorney concludes that a contract is
poorly written, it's called due diligence. Why then is it elitism when
a trained, professional designer concludes that a particular visual
artifact is poorly designed?

------------

The second issue concerns the statement that "Designers have *got* to
get over this need for typographical control." While I vehemently
disagree with the content of the statement, my real frustration is
related to the premise of the statement.

One of the more difficult challenges in working with designers is
learning how to provide them with actionable, intelligible feedback.
All too often, visual designers are told, "make the text bigger",
"change the color", or "add these five more things to the page". Such
comments however do nothing to help the designer perform their job; is
solving problems of visual communication. Such comments leap right to a
solution without considering what the underlying problem might be or
how else it might be solved.

While I agree with the underlying frustration expressed in your
statement -- the design profession *does* need to do a better job of
optimizing visual communication on the Web -- your solution is but one
way to accomplish that. Asking for designers to give up large portions
of control over typography, perhaps the most fundamental component of
visual design, is to ask them to give up working at the level of visual
communication worthy of their profession.

Instead, the issue could be stated as, "Unfortunately, many designers
still rely on .GIF text for situations that could be readily
implemented with CSS. Hopefully the technology and tools will soon be
made sufficiently powerful and accessible to satisfy the needs of
professional visual designers." This not only states the real problems
-- inertia on the part of designers and complexity on the part of the
technology -- but also suggests a solution: improve the technology and
tools to match the user's needs.

As you mentioned, designers (myself obviously included) can be a testy
lot. However, that testiness can almost always be reduced by improving
communication and better understanding motivations and goals of
everyone involved.

Apologies for the length of the reply.

All the best...Bob

------------------------------------------
Bob Baxley :: bob at bobbaxley.com
Professional :: www.baxleydesign.com
Personal :: www.drowninginthecurrent.com

On Apr 29, 2004, at 4:02 PM, Peter Merholz wrote:

> [Caveat -- I've been offline all day, and am responding only to Bob
> Baxley's email. Lord knows where this discussion has gone since
> then...]
>
>> You need to get out and meet some true designers. Some of the most
>> creative, talented, and intelligent people in the world are working
>> in the field of visual design and to say that they "favor style over
>> substance" is an insult to one of the grand traditions of the modern
>> age.
>
> I've met, and worked with, many "true designers", as you call them.
> And, you're right, they don't necessarily favor style over substance.
> (Though, is it such that I'm the only one not allowed to make
> hyperbolic and sweeping statements on the list?)
>
> My statement was in large part a reaction to being fed-up with design
> elitism, or more specifically, design pooh-poohism, which, frankly, I
> think does more damage to the profession of visual design than many
> designers realize. It makes it very easy to marginalize, as clueless
> aesthetes, people who deny the communicative power of something, just
> because it doesn't hold up to some arbitrary standard of quality.
>
> (The same is true for any field. Usability professionals are easily
> marginalized when they spout USABILITY ABOVE ALL ELSE ALWAYS.)
>
>> Not that there aren't plenty of visual stylists who are both
>> ignorant and dismissive of usability but I hardly find them
>> representative of the profession.
>
> Then I think you're wearing blinders. Or blinkers. Whichever.
>
> Maybe not "representative," but definitely out there _en masse_. I
> just judged an interaction design show in Minneapolis <URL:
> http://www.aigaminn.org/exhibita/ >, and it was clear that the *bulk*
> of the entries were made by stylists. And when you look at the winners
> of most interaction design annuals (Comm Arts or Print), again,
> stylists.
>
>> As for the diagram, I have to agree with Andrei's judgment, as a
>> visual expression it is inferior at best. The fact that is
>> communicated to those in attendance at the conference is likely more
>> of a reflection on the skills of the presenter than the communicative
>> value of the diagram.
>
> Sure, it's ugly and amateurish. You know what? She's a usability
> professional, with, I believe an anthropology background. She never
> suggested ever that she was a "designer." She's likely not involved
> with the "design" of the product, at least, not much beyond some
> wireframe sketches.
>
> This is what I mean by elitist designer bias. You're criticizing
> something for not being what it never set out to be. So it won't win a
> design award. What it will do is help her understand how a key
> audience was being neglected by the current product, communicate that
> with her client, who might, in turn, realize a new opportunity for
> making boatloads of money.
>
> Also, this diagram *has* communicated to people all over the web,
> people who were not in attendance at the conference. It's one of the
> most trackbacked posts I've ever written. People all over are seeing
> the power of that way of diagramming research results.
>
>> To the larger point however, both in your response here, in a recent
>> post to your blog, and in many of your public statements, you come
>> across as somewhere between dismissive and combative towards
>> "design."
>> I'm wondering if you would elaborate both on your definition of
>> design and why you're so hostile towards it.
>
> It's ironic that I'm being labelled as "dismissive" by someone who has
> dismissed a perfectly good tool for visualizing patterns found in user
> research.
>
> Anyway.
>
> I'm not dismissive/combative of "design" as practice. I *love*, and
> rely upon, good visual design. Beginning with my work at Voyager, and
> continuing with Studio Archetype, my formative years in interaction
> design were at places with brilliant visual designers, from whom I
> learned tons. I wouldn't have been on the steering committee for
> AIGA's Experience Design community if I was dismissive of visual
> design. I wouldn't have agreed to judge AIGA Minneapolis' Exhibit A.
> Visual design is an essential element in the work that I do.
>
> And I recognize that I'm not an accomplished practicer of that craft,
> and so I seek to collaborate with designers. I often tussle with my
> clients as I try to get visual design involved earlier in a
> development process, not just when it's time to start drawing screens.
>
> I will admit that I can be dismissive/combative of "graphic design" as
> a profession, specifically graphic design. For any number of reasons.
>
> Like, when I'm labelled "hostile", "dismissive", and "combative" by
> designers, when I'm simply being critical. Designers have some of the
> thinnest skin of any group within the user experience umbrella.
>
> Like when I see Communication Arts or Print give awards to bad
> interaction design, because the submissions give good screenshot.
>
> Like when I paid my hefty dues to the AIGA, and seem to get nothing
> for it in return except for doorstops printed on expensive paper.
>
> Like when I witness design elitism, which ignores the fact that the
> bulk of people doing user experience work are not trained designers,
> and will never be trained designers, and instead of figuring out how
> to make the world a better place for everyone (through tools like,
> say, Jesse James Garrett's Visual Vocabulary <URL:
> http://www.jjg.net/ia/visvocab/ >), instead make snide, and, in
> context, inappropriate comments.
>
>> For reference, the particular blog posting I refer to included the
>> quote, "Designers have *got* to get over this need for typographical
>> control."
>
> If you had seen all 60+ entries, and seen how often people put text in
> a graphic, you might feel the same way, too. Isn't a tenet of "true
> design" to embrace the medium and its capabilities? .GIF text is a
> sign of fearing the Web medium.
>
> I share office space with Doug Bowman, <URL:
> http://www.stopdesign.com/>, a brilliant graphic designer who is doing
> what he can to merge quality visuals with Web standards. It's just
> that he's one of a seemingly rare breed.
>
> For what it's worth, and that's probably not a whole lot, I've been as
> critical of information architects (for thinking the Web is some big
> findability engine) and usability engineers (there's more to life than
> efficient task completion). Yet it's only when I'm critical of graphic
> designers that I receive such whingeing and lashing responses. What's
> up with that?
>
> --peter
>
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3 May 2004 - 1:59pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On May 3, 2004, at 2:33 PM, Bob Baxley wrote:

> What I've never understood is how the opinion of trained professional
> designers can be dismissed as elitist when the opinion of other
> trained professionals is respected. When a trained accountant offers
> their professional opinion on a company's financial statements it's
> respected as an audit. Similarly, when an attorney concludes that a
> contract is poorly written, it's called due diligence. Why then is it
> elitism when a trained, professional designer concludes that a
> particular visual artifact is poorly designed?

Bob, you have my total agreement on that one.

Rather than have designers "give up (total) control" over typography,
why don't we advocate developing better tools so that designers or we
the public can have the same level of control over design? I mean after
all, CSS is headed in that direction, albeit a long way away.

I am an advocate for "designers" learning more about usability as well
as "usability experts" learning design. I think they're both critically
important for successful products.

Now, I understand that the Web is a different medium than print and
that people use the Web different than print. But how much of that can
be contributed to technology, or lack thereof?

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

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