1 + 1 = 2; I assume I don’t have to defend this?

One thing I really hate about the work that I do is that you always have to defend it. I work with a broad range of clients, and I love working with most of them, but sometimes – less than it used to, gladly – you have a client who has one or two person working there that you wonder about what they are doing there, and why someone has such responsibility in a field he or she doesn’t understand at all. We all know those people, who are in a position that seems a complete mismatch to the person.

I have to defend design aspects a lot of times. Usually, when having an explanation it is sufficient; I really know what I am doing here, with 15+ years of experience in the field and 4 years of usability education, and continuously after that. But, with also an extensive business, programming and design background, you see multiple aspects of creating productions. And a production is a balanced combination of all; you have a budget which finances design and coding, marketing and your company. And often that budget is not limitless. So to make things work within a budget, sometimes you have to give in. And then there are the two biggest problems in any project; time and skill.

Most professionals understand this, more than it used to (because more and more, people are working longer in the IT field now) but still you have a lot of self-proclaimed guru’s or people who think themselves a lot more experienced than they really are (and believe me, I have been there coming out of the academy), or people who only think with their own opinion. And although it is simply a fact of life we have to deal with, it doesn’t make life a lot easier.

I have had major discussions defending design for things that are not worth defending even; why I chose for check-boxes instead of radio-buttons (as we know, both serve a different purpose), why a lot of the print-out functionalities I design are optimized for black-and-white, why I try to avoid scrolling. There are complete books written, many websites dedicated, to these simple rules. I still advice people to read the old, but I think still excellent book ‘the Design of Everyday Things’, which handles things that might look good, but are absolutely not functional in any way. Or look horrible, but are excellent.

I am an average programmer. I can do a lot with code, and in many different code languages and databases, but put a real skilled programmer in there and he will laugh out loud. The problem is, I do that a lot even with looking at codes of others that I need to work with. And again, if I think that way and I know I am not a very skilled programmer, it worries me. But on my code I expect critique, I expect comments. But because code is so abstract, I never get it. But design, mostly usability, is a huge problem. And defending usability rules is like defending the rules of grammar or math. To be honest, I don’t care if you like it, it is simply so (which is of course not what people like to hear). Defending a visual design is something else, people might not like the colors, or the balance or just the feeling. Fine. If a client pays you for a project, you can guide them thus far, but also have to remember it is their project. I usually warn clients for certain decisions, also in writing, but once they still want to continue with it, I work along.

But sometimes you have to defend something useless, which happened to me yesterday. In this I had to defend a developer version of a new website. And it was criticized because it did not have all the design aspects in there. And the defending was about that the persons complaining where complaining about that it was not finished yet, because they want to see it. That is not only frustrating, it absolutely can make me feel so out of place, working probably with someone who does not even grasp the concept of developer releases, beta’s, release candidates and releases, with no deadline in sight. And then complaining of putting the design in first, and then the functionalities that it is working on.

And those are the moments I wished I did not wake up this morning, and just turned over one more time and hopefully I would work with only highly skilled people the rest of my life.

But, on the other hand, it happens. It is part of life, and we all have been there. But it drains energy not only from me, but from the whole development team, and that, that is a threat to the production that I rather not jeopardize.


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