Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Dogma and Design

Because I enjoy it immensely, and because it pays my mortgage, I am an interactive designer/developer. I say designer/developer because I really labor intensively to do both well – which is not at all easy. One thing that makes it particularly difficult (aside from the clients) is the tremendously different attitudes and philosophies of designers and developers. Most of the designers I know consider themselves, for the most part, artists. Most of the developers I know consider themselves engineers of sorts. Perhaps one can begin to see my point.

Personally, I think that no interactive project will serve the client well if it is either unusable or ugly. In other words, an integration of these two disparate perspectives seems to me necessary. It is my experience with the medium, however, that this integration is very rarely achieved. As to why this is, I suspect dogmatism.

One dogmatist in particular raised my ire today: Vincent Flanders. Vince, it seems, is a cohort of the egregious Jacob Nielsen. I’ve got to give some props to Dr. Nielsen for the light he has helped to shed on usability concerns in software. That usability is a matter of great concern, there can be no doubt, but the cheerleading for usability is not what troubles me. What troubles me is the dogmatic assertion that usability is not only important, but paramount.

It is my contention that in some instances, usability is the most important concern, but in others, aesthetics is the most important and still others where they should be on roughly equal footing (this would seem to be the most common). It seems this is lost on these gents, and as I indicated above, I would submit that the kind of rhetoric they employ exacerbates the difficulties that naturally occur between designers and developers. So, rather than helping to produce an environment in which great work gets done, they’re despoiling the waters with comments like this (source):
"Web design is not about art, it's about making money."
Incidentally, this is the comment which raised my ire — he even has it in bold type. I have no problem with the notion that web design is about making money, I just don’t consider profit and art to be mutually exclusive. My experience with designers suggests to me that comments like the above do more to turn them off to usability, heuristics, et al. in toto. Perhaps Vince should consider employing E-Prime.

I suspect the distance between Jakob or Vinny and say, Eric Jordan may actually be posterior to a deeper philosophical distance. In particular, I wonder how many of Nielsen’s ilk would fancy themselves objectivists or positivists. It would explain much, as the perspective of the designer/artist is often poorly or nearly impossibly parleyed into the language of slide-rules and t-squares.

posted by Malaclypse the Tertiary at 12:27 AM ·

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