Going beyond “I like”…

No, I’m not complaining about the vapid vanity encouraged by social media sites—while that is a problem worthy of its own post, maybe one day! Instead, I’m referring to the typical refrain heard amongst product teams when debating a proposed design: “I like this…” or “I don’t like this…” Sigh! And how exactly is the designer responsible for the decision (and defending strong criticism) supposed to respond? Of course, with tact and gravitas ;-) But such phrasings place the designer in a tenuous spot of contending with a colleague’s impromptu opinion while arriving at an appropriate, meaningful solution.

When you look closer, “I Like” shifts a user-centered design problem into one of personal preference, becoming a debate of opinions via personality and authority, which isn’t the best battle to wage. Emotions and egos can cloud important concerns around risks and trade-offs, with their consequences for the product (or business) distracted. Instead, I kindly suggest transcending this language…

1) Instead of saying “I” in design discussions, depersonalize by saying “It” or “This” (preferably while pointing at the element :-) This is also useful in explaining abstract principles or other general design statements, like “It helps users to have clear feedback”, not “I want users to have clear feedback.” Again, remove yourself and the implied ego aspect from the discussion, to re-focus the team’s attention on the element and situation at hand—with all their implied merits—not who said what.

(Corollary: Try to avoid saying “For me” or “myself” too. More useful to refer by name to any pre-defined personas or actual users, to frame issues via their perspective.)

2) Ban the word “Like” in design discussions. Period. “Like” is simply not a design word, but one of personal preference suitable for food or movies. Instead, encourage teammates to say “In this case, the icon might work because” or “The icon doesn’t seem to work because”. Notice the main word here: WORK. The idea is to shift the discussion towards the functional nature of the design elements, or the “job to be done” by the color, font, layout, icon, transition, etc. rather than any personal preference. 

And if someone still says “Like”, then force the necessary “Why” question to ascertain the rationale from that person, thus inviting a reasoned, objective debate, rather than a personality battle. 

** Note: When it comes to visual design style—always a lightning rod for personal opinion–there is a functional nature as well, in support of brand principles. As in, “Does this style enhance or detract our company’s brand image and the message our product is trying to communicate?”. And always remember, product managers and engineers are not art directors! 

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