Why I trust designers

My first marketing job was with a website in the pre-dot-bomb era. Back then there was little in the way of reliable analytics, SEO was  as easy as stuffing keywords, and everyone was advertising with banners. Lots and lots of banners.

My boss at the time, whose previous experience was solely in print, fancied himself a designer. As such, it was my misfortune to have to be his go-between with the design department. Whenever they would create a graphic, page or banner ad, he would have me deliver notes about cropping it in some slight way, or making some adjustment to the font. While he would never admit it, he did this so he could put his “stamp” on the work being done.

The worst was the day he actually sent me to them to say, “this banner needs to be more blue.” I remember blinking a couple of times at that, not sure even he would say something so dumb.

“More blue?”

“Yes.”

“There’s something wrong with the particular shade of blue?”

“It needs to be more bluer.”

Yes – he actually said, “more bluer.” It makes me think of this scene from, “Amadeus”:

An idiot trying to give criticism for the sake of giving criticism.

The Lead Designer went crazy when I passed this along, and rightfully so. I calmed him, telling him that yes, my boss was an idiot, and no, I don’t know what the hell that means either. I think this is why I had the job of talking to the Design Team – they respected me, even if it was impossible to respect him.

The point of this story is that marketers cannot second guess designers. When a design is run on a page, marketers can look at the resulting traffic, bounce rates, conversions, etc. to back up an argument that some design choice doesn’t work, especially if it has been run against some other choice in an A/B test. Making such calls based on our intuition and taste, however, is silly.

The designers working for you know what they’re doing. It’s likely they’ve done this for some time. They know what works and what doesn’t, because they’ve seen it work and not work before. Their gut call is worth more than a marketer’s gut call, because they have actually done this work in the past.

The reason people who aren’t designers tell designers how to do their job is they think it’s an aesthetic choice. They may like a font or color for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with sound design. In my experience, when testing what the designer came up with against what the non-designer wanted, the designer’s version always performed better. When you’ve done something long enough, you just know what works.

So if you have trusted designers to do a job, let them do that job. If you know better than them, you should be doing the work yourself. If you can’t, you need to unclench and trust their ability.

And if you really want something, “more bluer,” come prepared with the hexidecimal code for the shade of blue you want.

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2 comments

  1. That said it is the duty of the team working with the designer to provide the designer with the right information to create a working design. It isn’t magic, it’s skill, but it’s a skill that doesn’t work without the right information. So it isn’t simply enough to leave the designer alone to do their thing and let that be enough. It is all about finding the right balance in the feedback loop. Initial information has to be clear on what the goals are, what the message is, if there are brand considerations regarding color use, etc.

    The designer still has to be willing to take criticism of their work based on an analysis of whether the team is comfortable that the message is being delivered, or give them new input based on adjustments to that or technical limitations presented by IT.

    When the product is live, the marketers need to be diligent about communicating what is and isn’t working so the designer can learn from that, since the designer’s job is to visually present the right information to the audience. If the audience isn’t getting it, something has to change. Sometimes that’s the message, sometimes that’s the way it’s presented, sometimes it’s a combination of the two.

    That said, never ask your designer to make something more bluer. That’s just some bullshit sure to put you on the hunt for a new designer.

    1. You are absolutely right. I was only addressing the prejudices of non-designers towards design work, but it should also be said there is a co-operation between what the designer does visually, and what the effective result of the work is. That it isn’t a question of aesthetics is true for both sides.

      Sounds like I need a guest post on the design process for web!

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