What to do instead of playing designer.

Opinions and feedback during the unveil of visual designs have intrigued me for the past 15 years. I am regularly surprised by the perception that, if you have a good eye, you can design a website or a brochure. And, I am regularly uncomfortable when talented, professional designers patiently explain their points of view, while (sometimes) under attack from non-designers. Folks, at the end of the day, most of us are not professional designers. Yet, I don’t see the professionals cringe when the work they do is viewed as something anyone can be expert at. We need to change all that…

I’ve talked a lot about the benefits of a talented, internal creative services team for a college campus. I usually introduce a presentation on this topic by referencing individuals on campus who will say, “I’m not a designer but I designed this brochure and I was wondering if you could just spruce it up a bit. It shouldn’t take much time.” Following that little humdinger is this one, “Hmm…I like the design but it seems busy and it needs to be edgier and we don’t want anyone to have to scroll.” By this point, all at my presentation are head nodding and we’re ready to have a discussion about managing the design process and soliciting useful feedback.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about visual design. If you are a communications professional who has the good fortune to work with a creative team, I recommend this material. My hope is that what you read will make you a better partner in the design process. And, if you are a professional designer, take a look. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas for managing the design feedback process that you haven’t already tried.

The Art of the Design Critique
This post from the Treehouse blog offers some good advice about design critiques. There are some specific suggestions about how to give constructive criticism that is tied to business goals. Always a good idea, right?

Taming the Elephant: Design Critiques with Non-designers
This post from the Viget blog is about conducting cross disciplinary design critiques with a different perspective coming from five disciplines. So the idea is that the roles of marketing, user experience, development, project management, and visual design all offer different kinds of feedback. Best piece of advice from this post: Don’t try to solve design problems during the critique because it’s too time-consuming.

In Defense of Eye Candy
This blog post from A List Apart is all about the role of beauty in visual interface design and a common misunderstanding about visual design as mere eye candy or decorative. The article considers how aesthetic design choices influence understanding and emotions, and then how understanding and emotions influence behavior for website visitors.

Graphic Design for Nondesigners
I’m currently reading this book by Tony Seddon and Jane Waterhouse. I don’t expect to be designing homepage concepts after reading it, but it is filled with definitions of design terms and concepts. Most of the visual design concepts explained in the book include examples of designs done well and not so well and everything in between. Very helpful stuff and I recommend it.

Fuck you. Pay me.
This is a video of Mike Monteiro, design director and co-founder of Mule Design Studio, giving a presentation called “Fuck you. Pay me.” The presentation is a great summary on standing behind creative and design work. Mike’s session starts with some typical client statements. “We ended up not using the work.” “It’s really not what we wanted after all.” “We got somebody internal to do it instead.” To each of these statements, his response is “Fuck you. Pay me.” It goes on from there…and it’s worth a watch.

Here’s my best advice for your next attendance at a design reveal: Listen first (this means you are not talking.) Hear all that the designer has to say; let him/her walk you through the design before the feedback begins.

4 thoughts on “What to do instead of playing designer.

  1. Thanks for sharing these resources. Design critique is a constant challenge with our crew and the clients we serve. I look forward to reviewing some of the posts you’ve shared, and to sharing your post with our design team.

    One additional resource I would add to your list is this classic cartoon from The Oatmeal: How a web design goes straight to hell. Although it’s focused on web design, the lessons translate to other media.

  2. Great resources. I need to pass them on.

    I’d like to add that one of the biggest things that we as designers miss is understanding where our work fits within the context of the client’s strategic goals. Some of the biggest fails I’ve witnessed are when presentations focus on the aesthetic details of the piece and not how that piece solves the problem.

    There are cultural and communications differences that exist between administrative and creative professionals, and it’s been my experience that it is easier for creatives to learn the language of business.

  3. Interesting thoughts, jdzig. I say we should continue to build towards a team of professionals that all focus on the client’s strategic goals. Strategy should drive it all. You’re right, we need to help people refocus on that, regardless of discipline. Thanks for your comment.

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