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While implementing an interface, should I consider what I like myself or what people might prefer?

I believe, generally speaking, people don't have good taste and what I design might not seem good to them.

Is there a trade-off between user acceptance and what interface I give to them? and should I bind myself to people's desire in my design?

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+1 for the I believe, generally speaking, people, don't have a good taste. I laughed out loud on that! –  Code Maverick Jan 30 at 16:17
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@CodeMaverick: You shouldn't upvote for finding something funny, you should upvote for questions that 'show research effort; is useful and clear' which this certainly is not. At best it is misguided and arrogant and at worst it is just trolling. –  JonW Jan 30 at 16:28
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@JonW - I hear you, and I typically do, but that was funny and I wanted to upvote it for that, so I did. That said, the question is clear and useful. It might not show research, but it is worth discussing. This question points out a fine line that designers walk for the very line that I upvoted the question for. –  Code Maverick Jan 30 at 16:34
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@JonW Thanks for your cm! however I thought there might be a lack for such discussion here! And this idea didn't come from the air to my mind, this is what has been disturbing me for a while! As one of the examples someone wrote below about the grumpy users' and their reactions to iOS7 which actually mostly changed after a while when they got used to it; Of course I can't monopolize the market like Apple and force my users to like my interface! I was talking about a general case; People have different talents but not everyone is good in design and they may not know what design is good for them –  Hatef Jan 30 at 17:19
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@JonW this is a very entry-level question which professionals have solved for themselves years ago and it has become ingrained in our world views as designers. This doesn't make explicit answers any less valuable for beginners. It is natural for us to want to do things our way, especially the more creative people are always in search of possibilities of self-expression, and especially after learning to search for the sublime beauty in details, many beginners start viewing the users' wishes as burdening constraints. Telling them which mindset will let them build a career is important. –  Rumi P. Jan 30 at 19:23

9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Designers have to do what is best for the user

First, why are you designing something? Users will not use products they don't like. If they are saddled with using them (e.g. their employer determines what they have to use at work), they will hate using products they don't like.

If you don't care if anybody ever uses your design, then you are not bound by the wishes or taste of anybody other than yourself. This is a situation more likely to occur if you are an artist trying to express yourself in design. If you are working in industry as a designer for some kind of product which is supposed to be sold to customers (or given away in return for advertising eyeballs, fame, or whatever else), then you are hurting your own goals by making a product which alienates users.

Assuming that almost none of us is in the first situation, as a user experience designer it is your job to make a product which fits the users' needs in functionality, aesthetics, and some other aspects.

This doesn't mean that the user makes the design decisions and you implement them. It means that you have to create a design yourself, and it has to be aligned with the user needs and taste. There are some points to consider here:

Sometimes designers get terrible requirements

Sadly, this happens all too frequently, for several reasons.

Some users can't predict what they will like

This is true of practically all users. No human can predict their feelings well (read up on affective forecasting for details). And while a designer has learned to evaluate the goodness of a design analytically, non-designers in general cannot do it and just react to designs on an emotional level. Add to this that a designer has also learned to imagine a design before it has been implemented, and the mental image a user is judging to predict his future reaction is fuzzy at best.

This is why you end up with users who come to you and say "The background is boring, can you put an underwater picture there? And to stay with the maritime theme, please make the text blue". This will result in poor, unreadable design, and it is likely that the user won't be happy with it once it is implemented. But he cannot see the disadvantages of his idea.

The way you should react in this case is to use objective arguments about what is wrong with it. Something like "First, it will be very hard to read blue text on blueish background. Second, if you put a picture in the background, the text gets very hard to recognize. I am afraid that it will be very hard on the eyes, no matter how pretty the sea looks." If this doesn't convince the user, throw together a very rough prototype and if they really made a big mistake, they will frequently be able to see it and let you choose a different design.

Even in this case, it is your job to try to find out what the user was trying to achieve with his demands, and offer a better solution for his goals. In the example above, you could try to include maritime elements in the visual theme, or even use a faded underwater picture overlaid by textblocks with a solid-color background.

This problem is harder when it concerns functionality and not appearance. The users may insist that their idea is great even when shown a prototype, and only recognize its drawbacks after they have had a few sessions with using the finished version. If you find yourself in the middle of such a problem, try to force user testing with functional prototypes, however low-fi, as soon as possible.

Some users have a truly terrible judgment of existing designs

This almost never happens with actual users. If you make a design which is very hard to read, almost everybody who reads it will notice this. On the other hand, other stakeholders like the product owner may insist on keeping the bad design. (See details about this case further down.) This heading assumes that it is an actual user who wants something you consider bad.

The point here is that, if you have a truly unusable design, only a tiny percentage of all users will decide that they like it. So, just gather data from multiple users. If 99% of them hate the design, change it to what you know will be more usable, even if there is a vocal 1% who insists that they absolutely love the rainbow animation coming out of nowhere and hiding all content until you have chased it away with at least three clicks. And if the majority of them like the design, then probably there is nothing wrong with it and you should leave it the way the majority likes it, even if it is, in your opinion, bad. Designers can judge designs wrong too.

Be aware that your judgments as a professional are superior where matters of usability or efficiency are concerned, but not matters of taste. If you make a clear, understated design, all harmonious lines with a limited palette muted colors, and the majority of your customers tell you that it is boring and they want to see some red and some yellow there, than nothing makes your taste better than theirs. They happen to like primary colors, and if you are making the product for them, not for yourself (see caveat at the top), you should change it.

This doesn't mean that you should just slap a few colored patches at incongruous places, even if that's what the users ask. They ask for it because this is the best solution they come up with for their problem. You should try to understand their aesthetics, even if they are foreign to you, and work with them. If they like garish primary colors, make a design based around primary colors with bold contrasts instead of just adding a few lackluster splotches to a design which was never meant to contain them.

Be aware that users don't see designs the same way as a designer, and this is fine. An object is engaging for us humans if it is sufficiently stimulating intellectually, aesthetically or emotionally. A designer is accustomed to pay attention to each detail, to see everything about a design in depth, to think about structure, color, texture, typography, affordances and whatnot. A user notices much less details. So it is common that designers prefer minimal designs, which nevertheless tell them whole stories, while users need a few "in your face" details to overcome the threshold of boredom. Comic sans is not popular in user-designed texts because all users gathered and decided to use it; it is popular because each user was independently attracted to its unusual shape which is overwhelming to the point of kitsch in a designer's eyes.

Users frequently don't have much clout in the design process

It would be great if we could gather our requirements from users. But it happens so frequently that we are paid by a corporation which is going to sell the product to the users. We get our requirements from marketeers, a product owner, or even from HiPPOs. There you have the site owner who is in love with the title which blinks between red and yellow, or the one who insists that the customer's information should only be available after four clicks through pages with promotional content.

The reason is that these people are not users. The first tactic doesn't work for them. They never use the prototypes with the eye of a user, and when the blinking title catches their attention, they don't resent the distraction like a user would, but are filled with pride at the sign of their own branding.

In matters of pure aesthetics, the users' taste is not inherently better or worse than the owner's. If the owner insists on something you consider ugly, just do it, you can't prove that it is ugly, and the users will have to live with it. But if you suspect that it is counterproductive to the owners' goals (e.g. the owner is making a site aimed at a Polish audience and wants a black-red-gold color theme), you should voice your concern and try to gather data to find out if the users will really abandon the product more than with an alternative design.

The problem comes with functionality. Arduous navigation for common tasks, unintuitive information architecture, and data gluttonous forms are not to the taste of either the users nor the user experience designer, but product owners love them, because they are so well aligned with their view of the product. Here it is your professional duty to stand on the side of the users. Do lots of user research 1) to ensure that you have judged the situation properly and the design really is bad and 2) to have some hard data with which to convince the suits that their favorite design is costing them money. This is about the only argument which can dissuade them. Of course, the research might show that it isn't such a bad design after all. Then you should leave it alone, no matter what your personal opinion is. If you can't get them to see the point even after it has been empirically proven, then in the short term you still have to make the design their way and not yours (or the users'), because this is what you are getting paid for. Long-term, I would suggest searching for another job – not only is it not fun to work for people too full of themselves, the company might also have not so rosy a future if they ignore the users' opinions.

Conclusion

As a hired designer, you have to design for others' needs and not for your own. If you are in a situation where your theoretical knowledge, professional experience and user testing data say that your proposal is superior for objective reasons, you should

  • never automatically dismiss what the user wants – experience is on your side, but he has an intuitive detailed understanding of his workflow you can't have
  • inform your discussion opponent, project management and possibly other team members why you think that the proposed design is bad, using an objective evaluation (not "pink with orange is hideous, every fool knows it")
  • find out what needs or fears the user (or other stakeholder) was trying to address with their proposition and try to find a way to incorporate a professional solution for them into your design
  • in the end, follow the decision your boss takes, even if it is against your position.
  • in extreme cases, you are always free to leave the project (and possibly your job) if it really matters to you on a personal level. If you can't dissuade your product owner from gathering users' data ostensibly for use within the product but then selling it to advertisers, then you can make the moral decision to leave the project and the company rather than design this unethical product.
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Good answer to a bad question. However, you repeatedly conflate the user with the customer (or other stakeholders). For example, the customer or project manager, not the user, will be the one asking for an underwater picture. –  3nafish Jan 31 at 23:39
    
@3nafish Who determines a question is good or bad? Me, you (or your reputations) ? If the question is not suitable the moderators can simply remove it otherwise / (if not removed) you don't have any right to insult the people who ask questions and/or who answer it! Most of questions here can't have more than 5 answers but this question could challenge at least 10 users and have many viewers! So you can't simply ignore it if it is against your thoughts. –  Hatef Feb 1 at 0:05
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@Hatef, 3 suggestions to improve the quality of your questions: (1) One reason questions on this site can be closed is if they appear to be emotional rants. To avoid this, phrase questions objectively in terms of what you need to know and want to accomplish; comments such as "people don't have good taste" are counterproductive and make it appear that you may be trolling. (This accounts for my comment about the bad quality of the question, although I apologize if you were in fact not trolling.) –  3nafish Feb 1 at 0:44
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(2) Take the time to format your question carefully. This includes removing spelling errors, punctuating the end of sentences with periods instead of commas, not placing spaces before question marks, and using either standard sentence capitalization or title capitalization for the post title. (3) Demonstrate prior research. To encourage answers that are not purely opinion-based, it can help to cite studies or to show what you have done to try to answer the question. The more concrete details you can provide about a situation you face, the better quality of answers you will receive. –  3nafish Feb 1 at 0:45

Many decades of "generally speaking, people, don't have a good taste..." and "I know better then my user does" has resulted in a mass of poorly designed and highly unusable pieces of software. The primary culprits of this were software developers who both wrote the backend and the frontend, feeling that because they knew the software so well they knew how to best make a software interface.

These software developers would be considered "expert users" in a usability analysis. They know the software and UI through-and-through. But they are not the ones who will be using it. So why design for them? Do they drive your sales? You need to be designing for the user base that will be using your software!

Industry has started to realize that users do have good taste. They know what they like, and what they like is software they can use! It is why "Usability" started to gain so much traction, why "User Experience" was coined and why this site exists. Although a user may not prefer the way a UI looks (e.g., lots of grumpy people when iOS 7 came out) what is important is that the people designing know the users' needs and design to that.

You should strive to understand your users, their tasks when using your software, and their needs for successfully completing those tasks. This drives your design, and determines who's "taste" is important. It is possible that your "taste" allows the user to more effectively complete their task; it might be that the users' "taste" is the right choice; or it might be that third option neither of you thought of.

Is there a trade-off between users acceptance and what interface I give to them ?

Yes. It's known as "sales". If you don't have user acceptance, you don't get sales. If you have a piece of software that is forced on people (e.g., enterprise software) then you don't have to worry about sales, but you will have a lot of really grumpy employees who really don't like having to use the software you designed.

and should I bound myself to people's desire in my design ?

Users know what they want; they don't necessarily know what they need.

There is a cycle in software development that takes user experience into consideration. This cycle allows you to get to know your user, understand there needs and work to design an interface that satisfies those needs. While your "taste" is a variable in the design aesthetic, it is not the driving force... your users are!

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An article here summarises this well:

Curious about customer behavior? Use data.

Decisions about product quality? Use instinct.

Deciding between a small set of options? Use data.

Concerned with long-term impact? Use instinct.

In other words, don't think of this as "the People VS Me", but rather as "the people AND me".

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While implementing an interface should I consider what I like myself

Yes.

or what people might prefer

Yes.

But, ultimately, you need to consider what the end user needs to accomplish the tasks to fulfill the client's objectives.

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It's kind of philosophical question, but If you already know that your customers don't like your favorite designs, then you should avoid your taste. Afterall, it's your customers whose heart need to be won.

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What kind of interface are you designing? Generally speaking you should learn your user base, perform usability testing and design to the end user's needs.

Also - do you have any pages you want people to look at in particular, in which case I would recommend implementing some Google Analytics code to get a good overview of how the interface is currently being used. This is especially important if its a POS or retail site you are working on.

Hope this is helpful,

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A user interface is best designed when it meets the needs of its audience. If you are building an app for designers like you, then ignore other people's opinions.

A lot of people out there do not want or appreciate good design for some interfaces. Some people are dumb. If those are your target audience, then it seems appropriate that you design it in the way that dumb people would expect it.

There's simply no such thing as a "well designed user interface" that isn't used by its intended users. Good design means being useful and being used. So users decide what is well designed. We, as designers, are tasked with delivering it.

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You should design your interface for whoever will be using the interface. If it is a personal finance application, and you are the primary user, design it to your tastes.

If you have a conversion goal, such as I want people to read this article on my blog, or click this button, then you should design the interface based on meeting your goal. The best way to justify a design is with data to back it up.

What I'm trying to get across is, you should be designing based on functionality/ease-of-use and avoid designing based on what is visually appealing.

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Designing user interfaces is like choosing which clothes to wear. Your choice is (or should be) part personal-choice and part context-determined.

The ultimate goal is make things as convenient as possible.

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