No, Iâ€™m not complaining about the vapid vanity encouraged by social media sitesâ€”while that is a problem worthy of its own post, maybe one day! Instead, Iâ€™m referring to the typical refrain heard amongst product teams when debating a proposed design: â€œI like thisâ€¦â€ or â€œI donâ€™t like thisâ€¦â€ 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 colleagueâ€™s impromptu opinion while arriving at an appropriate, meaningful solution.
When you look closer, â€œI Likeâ€ shifts a user-centered design problem into one of personal preference, becoming a debate of opinions via personality and authority, which isnâ€™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 â€œIâ€ in design discussions, depersonalize by saying â€œItâ€ or â€œThisâ€ (preferably while pointing at the element :-) This is also useful in explaining abstract principles or other general design statements, like â€œIt helps users to have clear feedbackâ€, not â€œI want users to have clear feedback.â€ Again, remove yourself and the implied ego aspect from the discussion, to re-focus the teamâ€™s attention on the element and situation at handâ€”with all their implied meritsâ€”not who said what.
(Corollary: Try to avoid saying â€œFor meâ€ or â€œmyselfâ€ 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 â€œLikeâ€ in design discussions. Period. â€œLike” is simply not a design word, but one of personal preference suitable for food or movies. Instead, encourage teammates to say â€œIn this case, the icon might work becauseâ€ or â€œThe icon doesnâ€™t seem to work becauseâ€. Notice the main word here: WORK. The idea is to shift the discussion towards the functional nature of the design elements, or the â€œjob to be doneâ€ by the color, font, layout, icon, transition, etc. rather than any personal preference.Â
And if someone still says â€œLikeâ€, then force the necessary â€œWhyâ€ question to ascertain the rationale from that person, thus inviting a reasoned, objective debate, rather than a personality battle.Â
** Note: When it comes to visual design styleâ€”always a lightning rod for personal opinion–there is a functional nature as well, in support of brand principles. As in, â€œDoes this style enhance or detract our companyâ€™s brand image and the message our product is trying to communicate?â€. And always remember, product managers and engineers are not art directors!Â