Don Norman writes Why Design Contests Are Bad:
Why are shows bad? Shouldn’t we reward good design? Sure, if that’s what the shows accomplish, but they don’t. In fact, I believe they do harm to the profession. They reward the visible parts – styling – and ignore the most important, but hardest parts: interaction, experience, truly meeting needs, and even economic success.
Design for the modern designer is about finding unmet needs, about the way people interact with and use the product or service, about economic and environmental sustainability, about providing utility and pleasure. Design can be applied to services and organizational structure, to financial systems and medical practice. It is not just style and appearance, although these play an important role.
I’m not going to get into the whole design contest/anti-spec work discussion today. As much as I’m all for defending designers’ worth, I admit I enjoy looking at entries by top contestants.
Don Norman has articulated something that’s not just limited to design contests. In work places, most web designers hate the term “design by committee.” I think it’s unfortunate. There’s much benefit in seeing things from other people’s perspectives. The problem is, most discussions in these meetings are not design critiques, but rather interjection of personal preferences. Often, the HIPPO wins. “Green is my favorite color, so let’s change the background from blue to green” is a personal preference. “Green compliments the established corporate identity color palette and provides a warm and fresh feeling the new site should convey” is a design suggestion.
As I said before, I find it very difficult to critique a web site I don’t know much about. Without knowing what the goal is I can only judge the execution of what’s on the surface. The graphical elements are easy to critique, but often mixed with my own personal preferences. Usability wise, as long as I find my way around with ease then it’s good in my opinion. However, is there an even more creative way to accomplish the same tasks?
I also find it interesting that design is one of those fields where everyone can be a critic. It’s hard to imagine an average person can tell a surgeon that he’s “doing it wrong” in the operating room, or someone looking over a programmer’s shoulder and tells him his SQL code isn’t efficient. In order to critique those professionals, you’d have to have certain level of expertise in those fields. Then why is it everyone can be a design critic without any expertise? Is it because it’s visual and contains artistic elements that can be deemed as “subjective?” I believe that’s why bad design critiques are focused solely on styling instead of substance. Web design is about accomplishing a goal, eye candy is only part of achieving that goal.