Mar 9th 2010 · Permalink

My hypothesis:  No matter how beautiful the product, some people are just blind to good design; they’re designblind.


Look at this photo above.  The 1979 Pinto wagon.  Look at how happy those people are.  This is perhaps, the greatest day of their all too short life (assuming they get rear ended and blow up at some point).  To these kids, this car is the bomb.  (Oops, no pun intended, really)  It’s got four wheels, gas, brakes, and probably an 8-track to boot.  It goes forwards and backwards, left and right. It’s everything they need.


Now take a look at this Audi R8.  Look beyond the incredibly hot design, if you can.  It’s got four wheels, gas, brakes and probably a CD player.  It goes forwards and backwards, left and right.  To the cute kids sitting in the Pinto up there, this car is NO DIFFERENT than theirs.  Sure, theirs is a nice sweet mashed potato yellow, and this one is silver, but hey, they both get the job done.

I don’t think this scenario is too far off from what I’ve seen in my years of designing websites for clients.  You can show them several designs and get no response to the drastic differences between what you and I see as good design and average to poor design.  In fact, instead of noting some great IA or great color scheme they point out the fact that they can’t read any of the ‘Lorem ipsum’ and there seems to be a typo in the footer. It’s as if they are blind to the design.

So when a client can’t see the benefit of good design, how do we as designers encourage, promote and turn out good design for designblind clients?  To be honest, I have no clue.  I do think that we should start to dig deeper with more questions targeted to bring out the underlying desires that the client may not know they have, or realize they want but are unable to articulate.  We can’t expect our clients to be as web savvy as us.  (Not everyone is a nerd)

My previous post about designing a splash page for a client was perfect example of this.  The client knew something was missing but couldn’t pin point it.  They didn’t know enough about websites to put into words what they were thinking.  Digging deeper with questions and asking for examples led us to site after site that used a splash page, thus the conclusion: they really want a splash page.

As that situation turned out it had nothing to do with the design, but I could have wasted cycle after cycle trying to design a solution for them, when really it was more of a functional aspect of the site that was missing.  (I should note that this client in particular is not what I would consider designblind, however the example was used to show the process of digging deeper and asking questions for clients that aren’t as web savvy)

Designblind clients may in fact be a blessing since they don’t care so much about the design nearly as much as the functionality, which in turn kinda leaves you with an empty canvas to paint.  On the other hand, we should be wise not to mistake their dissatisfaction with a design as a problem with the design itself and not some missing feature or functionality.  Digging deeper with questions is a practice that we use to start with our initial designs, and something that I feel we should continue as the design review process progresses.  If we’re dealing with a designblind client, we can focus more on features and functionality than colors and fonts.

Note:  The images and analogy of the cars above was derived from a conversation with good friend and design hero Harold Emsheimer (@pws), which ultimately lead me to this post.  Thanks H.

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