Jakob Nielsen's recent post The Myth of the Genius Designer coincided with a marketing class I'm taking. My grizzled, veteran marketing professor distrusts designers. He punctuates criticisms of TV and radio ads by reflexively blaming "the creatives" for any shortcomings in the message.
I'm a positive guy, so my guidelines for working with designers are not so cynical. Just as you must know your users when building a system, to work best with designers you must understand their challenges.
- Everyone has an opinion about your designs. People who work in engineering, finance, and marketing rarely have colleagues from other departments wander by and offer unsolicited opinions on their code, accounting methods, or ad spending plans. Designers can look forward to this kibitzing every day.
- What are your qualifications? Other professionals can point to their MBA's, CPA's, or MSCE's as evidence of their expertise. On the other hand, designers are disrespected for their lack of business credentials. Few people understand how an art school curriculum prepares people for a design career.
- You're always compensating for other people's constraints. The design must accommodate the limitations of a system's functionality and shift to fit copy changes. But designers never can say, "My design doesn't support that code."
As a user experience specialist, you sometimes can be another source of headaches to designers who don't want more work supporting accessibility, affordance, or the results of user testing. Here are some ways to work better with designers.
- Support your recommendations objectively. Don't be another kibitzer to the designer. Back up your design ideas with human factors principles and user research.
- Present usability as part of design. Communicate to all that usability studies are not about judging or rejecting a design. Collecting and applying user experience is an integral part of the design process.
- Prioritize and work to deadline. If you have a perfectionist designer who fiddles with details too much, help them out by continually returning to business priorities. Never ask for a set of changes without clearly explaining the most important and then asking when they will be done.
- Ac-cen-tuate the positive. Start with mentioning the design's best aspects. Also, keep in mind that while it's easy to poke holes in a design, creating a new, original display or interface is much more difficult. Acknowledge your colleagues' efforts.