Visual aspects of interaction design - combative, dismissive, and hostile
29 Apr 2004 - 5:02pm
10 years ago
[Caveat -- I've been offline all day, and am responding only to Bob
Baxley's email. Lord knows where this discussion has gone since
> 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,
> 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
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
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?