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Jacci Howard Bear

Comment: Does Opinion Trump Fact in Design Decisions?

By February 13, 2013

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Let's revisit this discussion from 2008. Has your opinion (or the facts) changed in the last few years?

Out of my 12 Rules of Desktop Publishing the one that tends to garner the most discussion and argument is rule #1: Use One Space Between Sentences.

Many readers are adamant that two spaces after a period or other punctuation is the most readable and most attractive. Voters in the related poll are almost evenly split as to their own preferences. Among those that admit to liking the appearance of one space better there are some who still have trouble conquering old habits -- whether or not they first learned the two spaces practice in a long ago typing class where that was the norm.

Buried in the comments to a Design Observer post about a graphic design exhibition appearing around Europe and the U.S. a single line in a comment by Manual seemed to jump out at me:

Is 'opinion' more important than fact or proof?
[original Design Observer post and comments no longer found]

While Manual's comments accompanied a discussion much deeper than the old one space or two debate, the question still seems appropriate. Despite what studies and years of practice have revealed about how people read and comprehend or relate to varous typographical elements including font choices and punctuation, images, colors, and layouts someone is going to break the rules.

In their opinion it just looks better, works better, or seems more correct than the so-called rules or facts or common practice. As designers and communicators are they being daring and cutting edge, ignorant, progressive, sloppy or lazy, bull-headed, flexible, changing with the times, or what?

And what happens when you throw the opinions of clients or bosses into the mix? Sure, they hired you for your expertise but everyone has an opinion and what do you do when your opinion (or your interpretation of the rules or best practices in design) clashes strongly with the client or boss? Who wins and who loses? What's your opinion on this whole issue?

February 27, 2008 at 7:42 pm
(1) Jennifer Kyrnin says:

We would have these arguments almost daily in my Web design team. The designer(s) would say “but this just looks better!” and the developer(s) would answer “but the facts show that customers don’t like it” (or whatever). Ironically, the decision usually went to whomever felt strongest about it.

Personally, I like to back up opinions with testing. In other words, if I feel that grey is the perfect color for a design, I will test it with users to verify that they agree. If it seems they do, I’ll present it as both my opinion and that of our user testers. If it seems they don’t, I might still try to press my point, but I’ll be more willing to cede the point to someone else, especially if they have testing to back them up.

In a freelance situation, I think that the final decision always ends with the client. I will try to influence them away from making huge mistakes, but if they are determined to have hot pink and black on their kid’s clothing site and nothing I say will dissuade them, that’s what I build.

February 28, 2008 at 8:18 am
(2) Cedric says:

At the end of the day, “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

A client will usually accept a good design, but you put your skills at their service, and they can get it the way they want, because they pay.

A user group at the client’s or externally will possibly weigh (and maybe not on the designer’s side), and there I agree that the majority is always right, at least because they are the potential buyers.
But you will always have a CEO with his own opinion. Unless he is submitting the design to his colleagues and willing to admit he may be wrong, he is likely to get an ugly design “that he likes”.

February 28, 2008 at 7:48 pm
(3) Terry says:

It also depends on the target audience. For example, American readers grew up with serif-fonts in their junior readers, so they feel more comfortable with serif fonts online and on paper. Europeans typically grew up with sans-serif fonts and have the reverse view.

So, if you have a European designer, of course they will prefer sans-serif fonts, and will have the research to prove they are correct. Likewise, the American designers will prefer serif fonts for the same reasons.

People ignore the “facts” at their own peril. If people prefer a certain design feature, doing it differently merely chases the customer away. That’s the way I present it to my clients, “Sure, we can do it that way, but customer research has proven the way you want is less effective at selling (or keeping the readers attention).”

That way, when complaints roll in (and they do), the next time I make a suggestion the client is more likely to listen to me.


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