There's a side of design that no one talks about but every non-designer fears:
Design can do damage.
We all want to believe that a new design is always better. But there is a dark side to design: sometimes design can do damage. Data often shows that a new design can cause a loss instead of a gain, even if the new design looks nicer to us.
It’s fun to make a design without worrying about results. You set out to make something cool and exciting, revel in the dream, and take pride in what you create.
But, when the client or person in charge sees the bounce rate rise, or some other metric change, they get concerned about the design’s effect on results very quickly. That excitement fades, and difficult conversations happen.
Doubt, fear, and anger creep into the hearts of non-designers, and they end up asking the designer for changes via fingertip-lightning.
Designers, in turn, get frustrated when facing a pile of changes and go all Darth Vader.
The dark side of design threatens to rip us apart, but the light side holds a simple answer: just talk about it.
We designers often ignore this dark force when working with others. We are concerned with the details of our work and forget to explain how those details matter. We don’t tell others that we’re trying to reduce risk. And yet, we expect others to trust us that bad things won’t happen.
On the other hand, non-designers rarely ask about risks, even if they are thinking about them. Instead, non-designers will ask for specific changes, without explaining that the reason is the fear of decreases and damage.
Both parties just want to talk about how amazing the design is going to be and avoid the bad stuff entirely.
But if you want to avoid potential bad consequences of a new design, you need to talk about them while you’re making the design.
Even better, make a plan together about how to measure the design and what you will do if it doesn’t perform as you expect.
Often, the correlations between a design’s details and its success are a complete mystery to non-designers. That’s ok.
Our job as designers is to reveal those connections—to teach how we use seemingly minor details to create a powerful combined effect.
Resist the lure of the dark side by talking openly about both positive and negative outcomes.
As a non-designer, instead of zapping people with fingertip-lightning, ask about risks and voice your concerns without asking for specific changes.
As a designer, instead of chucking the fingertip-lightning guy down a bottomless pit like ol’ Darth, teach how your design will reduce risk as much as possible.
You will break the grip of the dark side and make an awesome design to boot.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
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