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I am working at a consulting company these days and I am having some issues with graphic designers I work with. Basically I have tested the graphic designers in various short projects for the following design deliverables:

  1. Icon concept generation.
  2. Icon background color gradients.
  3. Pixelated icons.
  4. Lack of understanding of typography.

The list goes on and on. I come from a HCI background myself and I'm curious if you guys know of resources a HCI person can refer to get a better understanding of the interface critique from a visual design perspective? I obviously have raised these issues but I m trying to make a comprehensive list of the parameters a person from HCI background can use to critique a interface to improve the Visual design. I'm mainly focussing on web for now.

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You'd want to read up on graphic design. Color theory, typography, fundamentals of design, etc. –  DA01 Aug 16 '12 at 5:25
    
Also, what do you mean by 'tested'? And not sure what a 'Icon background color gradients' test would be. –  DA01 Aug 16 '12 at 5:26
    
Recent material on information design is (I feel) a good cross-road. It should give good concrete guidance with regard to design. User interface design books seem to skimp on this and have a lot of "fait accomplis" filler and no real guidance. –  Chris Aug 16 '12 at 5:45
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Are you going to critique the designers or their work? "Lack of understanding of typography." –  FrankL Aug 16 '12 at 7:17
    
A designer who just knows typography to be a technique to change font size, color, weight etc. is someone I consider not to be a graphic designer who understands typography. A designer having knowledge of expressive typography, the process of construction of new fonts etc. is someone I consider to have a good understanding of typography. –  varun86 Aug 16 '12 at 7:36

1 Answer 1

(I decided to turn my comment into an answer)

Get them to tell you a story.

The story of how they developed the piece, what the key elements are and why that is important.

Through the process of introspection and explanation both you and the designer could come to some valuable realisations. If the answer is something like "umm...because it just is". Then you might have cause for concern.

Design is storytelling. Design has purpose.

What is the design for? What personality should it have?

If you know what the design is trying to communicate and to which type of users it needs to relate, this should provide a frame of reference. Is it bold and loud? Professional? Caring? Does the design communicate these traits?

Do you want the icon to stand out in a crowded app store? Does it shape the customer perception in the desired way?

If you keep the discussion about business and user goals you reduce the risk of it sounding like a personal attack.

Designers can be their own harshest critic

Many good designers have found a way to be constructively critical of themselves. They needed to in order to improve their skills. To be at the top of their game.

The designer should present their work. Explaining how they arrived at the solution and how this meets the stated goals. Others can then ask questions or provide their views within this context.

If a designer can't elicit and work with feedback in a healthy way their value is limited. You will just be having the same battles over again.

Managers: If you hired a designer for their design expertise and the business and customer goals have been central to how you work, then you should place some trust in the designer. Ultimately, this can be backed up with data - test early and often.

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+1, not because it answers the topic, but it's a nice summary on design. Wish I could make my previous emp's UX department think this way, instead of "You have an SE degree, managers have SE or MBA degrees, neither of you understand design, neither of you understand users, don't criticize our work, it's perfect, it's just you can't see it" - that went on until I started to be a UX designer for my department............ –  Aadaam Aug 16 '12 at 11:28
    
Thanks. I was cautious in listing parameters to critique a design because I don't think this is the best approach. Its when the elements of design combine to form a story to addresses the goals that any meaningful judgements occur. A designer might describe elements such as line, shape, shade etc. But these are given meaning by a story. –  Jay Aug 16 '12 at 13:33
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Oh, don't worry... they presented a set of wireframes with imperative statements on how things should behave, without any backdrop on why, so, it's not just about visuals. Once I wrote this on the cover of a UX recommendation /wireframe presentation: Elegance is minimalism in beauty: An elegant solution is nothing more, nor less, than the perfect counterpart of the problem it addresses. Design is, by definition, the journey to reach that solution. (and then it continued with problem statements and answers to each, building up a complete UI at the end) –  Aadaam Aug 16 '12 at 13:54
    
Thanks for the answer Jay. I agree with most of what you said, however in my experience users mental model and expectations are greatly influenced by their past experiences using other technology tools( websites, apps etc.). Therefore if a designer should rely on testing with users only to meet a level of expectation user has based on other tools they have used (heuristics, task analysis etc.) If a designer wants to create the "wow" factor in the designs and surprise end users then testing is not very helpful. Hope that makes sense. Thanks again. –  varun86 Aug 21 '12 at 2:37
    
@varun86 But how do you know if the wow factor has been achieved? Testing doesn't have to mean asking the customer about their expectation. I use it to mean anything that can build your understanding of the context within which you are designing. –  Jay Aug 21 '12 at 7:51

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