Not all design opinions are created equal

People have opinions about everything.

You’d think that after almost 30 years in design, I would get used to that fact. But sometimes it’s hard. Many people either forget or don’t realize that design is a legitimate field of study. There are things you can learn and understand about design that others don’t, just like with any other field of study. But for some reason, the fact that one can have an opinion about design can make them mistake that opinion for expertise.

But everyone is a designer, right? In a sense, I agree. Many people can write, too. I’m a writer. But I’m Stephen Hay, not Stephen King. The fact that people know things and do things doesn’t mean they know or do them well.

Milton Glaser famously said, “I move things around until they look right.” Doesn’t that feel like subjectivity? But there’s nothing subjective about the amount of knowledge and experience behind Glaser’s ability to know when things were right. I would have trusted Milton Glaser with a design problem. I would not trust my dentist with the same problem. Good design choices don’t come from anyone with an opinion.

Some people will come to you with their opinion on your design decisions. They’ll package it as educated advice. They’ll base it on something they have seen before, or that well-known companies do. They’ll confront you with “best practices”. Their goal is to get you to make the decision related to their personal preference. The discussions will be frustrating and demotivating. If you did the same to them, that would be different. After all, they have lots of experience in their chosen expertise, which is likely not design. These are the people who think “it would look better in hot pink”. (Really, what doesn’t?)

Other people will ask you questions. They’ll try to understand the context of your decisions. They’ll kick the tires of your choices by challenging you with what-ifs. They’ll ask what you’ve explored, what you’ve discarded, and why. They’ll question how your design handles applicable constraints. They’ll seek consistency. Their goal is to help you make the most appropriate choice for your problem. And they would welcome you to challenge them in the same way. The discussions may be challenging, but they leave you with either confirmation or more options to consider.

The opinions of people from the second group are more valuable to you than those from the first.