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One hump or two?

Originally featured in issue 200 of .net magazine

I’m a terrible cook. I’ve known this since childhood when I made mince pies at School. At home they remained shoved in a cupboard for weeks until Christmas day when they vanished. Mum said she’d left them out for Father Christmas and he’d “taken the lot”. Even at 9 years of age I knew they’d actually been thrown in the bin! I’ve always been a realist when it comes to things I’m not good at. I’m no cook and would never presume to tell a cook how to cook!

I live in a world where everyone wants to be a designer and I’m often given a plethora of comments about my own work. I value opinion – don’t get me wrong – you can’t work or live in a bubble. Considered feedback is highly valued and can help you develop in what you do. Total strangers give me their opinion on online, magazine or telly work of mine. That’s fine as it’s already in the public domain. It’s getting it out there and seen by the public after a multitude of pokes, prods and tweaks that’s the hard part.

A designer’s job is probably the only profession where a non-designer will sit on your shoulder and tell you you’re doing it wrong. For an easy life designers will happily be told which pixels to push and where to. Curiously when out for a meal I’ve never felt the urge to do something similar by storming into the restaurants kitchen and telling the chef how to flambé a duck. Similarly I’ve never told my grandmother how to suck eggs. I leave that to the experts.

Design by committee is a fact of life and something we have to deal with. A camel – as the maxim says – is just a horse designed by committee. “ So what do you think of my horse?” asked the equine designer “Oooh I have an amazing idea!” said the horse design committee “ Let’s add…a HUMP!”

To have a “valued” opinion it’s not necessary to find something (anything!) wrong with what you’re critiquing and to propose “suggestions” for its improvement. If it looks good works well and is on brief then say so. When suggestions go bad websites develop humps.

We’re taught to value opinion and because of this we sometimes cave in and add someone’s idea to a design just to be polite or political. At this point it’s up to the designer to rationalise their layout. Why bother hiring the designer in the first place if they’ll only be used to move layers around for their Photoshop puppet master? They add no value to a business by doing this.

Whereas the idea should most certainly lead the technology it’s a wise designer who understands what can be done technically. The well of boundless imagination is a nice place to visit but it will cause designs to hit a brick wall once the opinion mill starts rumbling and it’s realised that the design can’t be built to budget. Crossing the demarcation lines and speaking with developers is to be encouraged when creating designs.

Who is asked for an opinion and who isn’t in the battle to get designs out there is an art form in itself. There are a couple of types of people, who can make this process very difficult. The first were there when websites were carved in stone, webmasters ruled and Amazon took a week to deliver. They knock every Internet event, conference and new product release. The best way to deal with them is to throw them a buzzword. They love fads and bandwagons – so tell them you’re design is “Hot wired for social networking interoperability” They’ll love that and go and celebrate with a triple macchiato. You won’t see them for a week…

The other type is the issues mongerer. Curious individuals of whom nobody seems to know who they are or what they do. One thing is for certain though – they have issues with your design, issues so loud the M.D can hear them. However these issues never come with solutions, a dangerous sign. Don’t worry too much though as this type are easy enough to avoid as they invariably come in late and leave early as they’re always having issues with their trains…

Designers are experts at what they do so let them get on with it. They’re by no means infallible and good considered feedback is to be encouraged. Over cooking feedback can have disastrous effects on delivery dates and budgets.

Once all the internal feedback is dealt with it’s time to show your jewel of a website to your client. Probably best to butter them up first. I usually do that with a home made mince pie..

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