Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Hardest Design Lesson to Learn

Computer Frustration
Design is hard work. There is no question about that. It takes time, skill, and a lot of planning to pull off a great design. So what is the hardest design lesson to learn? Is it choosing that perfect font that communicates your message? Is it selecting the best color scheme that adds that extra flare? Or is it coming up with that creative concept that will blow the competition away?

While all of these steps in the design process are important. The hardest lesson for a designer to learn is to listen to the opinions of others. It echoes the age old principle, "The customer is always right."

Any designer knows that, to most non-design people, everything you do looks wonderful. In some cases, a customer's idea of a design gives you this strong desire to fix it and make your design despite what the client wants. Sometimes, the hardest thing for the designer, or even the client, to do is quench that desire and design with the audience in mind.

There are a couple of reasons for highly valuing how other people view your designs. The most obvious reason is to please the customer. If you, as a designer, tell a client, “Here’s my design, take or leave it,” then you won’t have many customers. The other reason has to do with how the design communicates.

This is where church design comes in. Churches don’t have clients. Oftentimes the designer is designing for the pastor, or maybe the pastor is the one doing the designs. When you design for yourself you receive no external input and, unless you make the effort to ask, you won’t get any either (at least before going to print, afterwards, you'll probably get plenty).

Let me paint an all-too-common scenario for you. As I have mentioned in the past, I am designer for a Christian school yearbook. Many times, I will come up with an amazing cover, fantastic new spread designs, and awesome layout concepts only to have them dissected and removed piece by piece by the administrator.

In those times, I’m tempted to think, “He couldn’t possibly understand the aesthetic features of such a bold and innovative design.” However, what I have learned is that if my design doesn’t communicate to him, it probably won’t communicate to my audience. What I thought was an awesome design, in reality, wasn’t as effective as it could be.

In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, show your designs to your spouse, your kids, your parents, your pastor, and anyone else who would come into contact with the design (within reason). Gathering input from a variety of age levels will help you create the design that communicates effectively to all audiences.

Let's do a brief exercise. Look at the picture below, but don't look at the text below it right away.

What was your initial reaction to each design? What first came to mind for the picture on the left? For me, immediately, Wi-Fi bars popped into my mind. The ad is about McDonald's offering Wi-Fi. That's successful communication.

What about the image on the right? My first thought is "dandelion" followed by"fireworks." However, the website I found the picture on says it's supposed to be a sucker cleverly designed as fireworks. Did anyone out there think this was a sucker? I asked a few people what they thought and no one saw a sucker. If that's what they were trying to communicate, they've failed. Effective design communication, that's what we're talking about.

I'm curious about your responses to our little exercise. Please feel free to leave your answers in the comments below.

Now, here's what you can do:
  • Ask for their initial reactions. (Most important)
  • Ask for their opinions.
  • Ask how they feel about it.
  • Ask what it says to them 

The Bottom Line
The hardest design lesson to learn is listening to the suggestions of others. If you can master suppressing the “my way or the high way” mentality then you’re one step closer to achieving success with your designs. It’s not easy. It may take some work, but you’ll be thankful for it in end.

What do you think about this?
Do you have a similar story to mine? Share it below.
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