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How personal bias effects design

For years and years when someone asked me what music I liked I said, “Everything but country and rap.” A good friend of mine pushed me on my response one day and I finally realized that country and rap music is just another form of art that at that time I did not fully appreciate. I am not longer a punk rock snob, although I don’t listen country on a regular basis, I have a deep appreciation for the art form and its difference to the musical world. I have fallen in love with rap however.

We do the same thing in design, we have all heard it. “That design sucks!” Although most of us designers think we know and understand composition and can critique another works at lightning speed, do we really know why a design is flawed? Or is it just our own bias and perception that influence the way we critique and create design.

Popularity

Popularity, just like in high school, create copycats. Just because Facebook has three-bazillion users doesn’t actually mean that its design and composition is wonderful. I’m sure we can all find just as many wonderful compositional high points as low points (I’d root for more low points however.) Changing your header background color to solid #3B5998 to mimic Facebook will not guarantee the success of your Uncle’s Razor Scooter website.

Popular websites are destructive to the design world, but only for those designers who don’t fully understand why a popular websites design works. Facebook’s design works for many reasons but mostly because it’s form and function dance together very well. As another example, look at Web 2.0 and the rounded corner. When the rounded corner made its splash in the web world, every hip new Web 2.0 site had them, why? Because it was awesome. At the time every designer who wanted to achieve Web 2.0 (without even knowing what Web 2.0 was) would simply just copy the look and feel of a site that had achieved it. In many cases this meant implementing cool CSS tricks like rounded corners. But as more and more designers gave in to their popularity insecurities, the more and more the rounded corner became less meaningful.

Taste

I love corn on the cob, in fact, I don’t eat much corn unless its on the cob. But does this mean that ‘corn off the cob‘ is any less tasty or nutritious? Nope. It all boils down to taste. Some designers swear by dark text on light backgrounds and even work so hard to prove scientifically that it is better than the opposite. But light text on dark backgrounds can be more engaging in most cases. One is not better than the other, they both have their places in the vast world of web composition, but figuring out what compositional elements will taste better can be the hardest thing a designer ever does. The key is find out what taste your user prefers first.

If I have people coming over the house for a BBQ and I know most of them hate hot dogs, would I serve hot dogs to them just because taste wise, I KNEW they were far superior than hamburgers? Probably not, unless I was a jerk right. The point is, design is a matter of taste and one person may love your bright green text borders over your dead black background while others would say it was “stupid”, but what do your core user like? Who are your core users and what do they do on your site?

Utility

Just cause someone owns a truck doesn’t mean they are a construction worker. There is a reason why we design for familiarity but this doesn’t mean that we have to stick to stereotypes. In our minds we have a template for every genre of web design just like we have perceived musical formulas for music. We think that when we see a white background with three columns that is should be an e-commerce site. The utility of the website shouldn’t define the look and feel of it. Innovative, great design in most cases can break the utility convention.

The function of a website should marry with the form of a website, not dictate its look. This comes back to our user once again. What does our user prefer, or what will our user like? If you are creating a blog for a client, you’ll want to stick with the conventional elements of a blog, like having a sidebar with categories listing and tag indicators. These elements tell your users that they in fact reading a blog, but this doesn’t mean you have to use the formulaic two column layout with a large title header.

Closing Argument

Ironically, the websites that replicate every bias we have as designers are our wonderful design blogs we love to waste most of our days reading. Design blogs have been victim to popularity, taste and utility. Smashing Magazine is the QB of our all-state high school football team and then rest of us would really love to have the success that they have enjoyed. But the real brilliance of Smashing is its innovation. It was one of the first design blogs to really brand itself.

As designers we need to be making the interwebs better, not worse, that means trying out best to be innovative. When we are tempted to copy we need to smack our selves in the face and wake up, we need to not force feed our users designs that we think are great and next time you are working on an e-commerce project, add some freaking color!


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