Thursday, June 05, 2014

Why Everyone Knows How to Design Better Than You

As a designer you will run into clients and coworkers who know little about design. But many of them will think that they do. They are the ones who think design is easy to understand and to execute. In their minds they only need design software, like Photoshop, and they will be able to design — maybe even better than you. However, at the same time, you will run into clients who truly understand the design field. And yet they will be some of the most humble and appreciative (of you skill) people around.

Why is that?

There's a psychological phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It's the idea that one's own incompetence in a skill, such as graphic design, leads to an inflated self-assessment about their understanding of it. The study revealed that many people will only appreciate the skill if they try to actually master it. In other words, a non-designer who desires to incorporate design as a business advantage will soon appreciate the skill and mastery it requires to pull it off successfully.

However, the study also revealed that those who have a natural ability in the same skill tend to have a lower self-assessment of their actual skill level. As a result, talented designers can become vulnerable to doubt when confronted by the confidence of a non-designer. Although this isn't the case in many situations, designers are still at the mercy of clients and coworkers who don't know much about design.

What can we do about this situation?

  1. First, get used to it. Part of the solution is accepting human nature. Some clients can be arrogant. But it's more likely they just don't know what they don't know. So, be patient. Listen a lot. Sometimes they can make some good points without realizing it.

  2. Second, get out of your own way. Have some confidence in what you can do. You are their partner, not just hands. They really need your help. But base your confidence on your ability to adhere to communication objectives, as a professional designer. However, don't rest your confidence on being able to create pretty design. Pretty is a subjective criteria, that every non-designer has an opinion about, and they may not agree with your assessment.

  3. Third, take time to educate your client. This ought to happen no matter what attitude the client exhibits. However, it's most effective when the client enjoys learning, sees you as a valued partner, or wants the best solution — rather than simply wanting what they have the ability to envision.

  4. Fourth, get very detailed in your creative brief before doing any design work. Let the client know and agree with your design strategy, and stick with it throughout the process. Inform the client how design decisions either enhance or detract from the agreed-upon strategy at every step in the process. And instruct them how to evaluate design options, so that they can avoid making subjective decisions which run counter to the strategy.

  5. And finally, base all communication and design decisions on the needs of the end-user or the target audience. When you do this it makes client and coworker conversations more objective, and it pushes each party to make decisions based on the end goal, rather than personal opinions.
Photo courtesy hobvias sudoneighm of under Creative Commons license

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