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Our so-called ‘design community’

Setting the scene

Last week Skype announced a design competition asking designers to submit chat styles for their recently released and somewhat controversial Skype 5 client.  The new interface design had been in open beta for a few months, and featured a consolidated single window with a contacts sidebar, and a default style that had a frankly rather ridiculous amount of padding on nearly every element.

A lot of vocal members of the design community lashed out at the design (which was especially noticeable on twitter) basically demanding all kinds of changes, and ranting about how shit their UX designers must be.  Now, I’ve been guilty of similar fits of UI rage on many occasions, so I understand.

As a user you can get frustrated when something doesn’t work how you’d expect, and as a designer, when you can think of what seems like an obvious solution, you’re pissed that the designers of the product didn’t think of it.

Now, this is nothing new in the design community.  We see something like this every couple of months.  Company X releases a bad design, designers take it as a personal insult to their entire profession, and jump to show the world how much better they are than the lowly worm who has soiled their delicate sensibilities by spewing this visual garbage into our otherwise clean and shiny world.

Whether it’s the redesign of Digg, new twitter, or the #dickbar fiasco, a new logo for Gap or a new icon for iTunes, it’s us designers that are usually the first ones to try and get a word in.

One should examine oneself for a very long time before thinking of condemning others.
~ Moliere

One example among many

An article caught my attention today by @kaishin on twitter, who presents a very surface-level criticism of Skype’s user interface decisions, and then calls for all UI designers not to play Skype’s game by refusing to participate in their design competition. (It’s apparently fine though, if you’re pushing someone else’s agenda).

Now I get that some designers may be worried about the design community being devalued by these competitions, in the same way that fast food devalues a good steak.

Except that it doesn’t work like that, and you know it. Design competitions are not going to kill our community.  But we might.

The thing I believe is undermining our community, is an ever-increasing cynicism, barrages of quick-fire negative remarks, people jumping to conclusions completely without context, and a general lack of respect for one’s peers.  This is obviously not happening across the board, but it’s a serious problem, and spouting shit like this doesn’t help anyone:

A serious man.

Really?! Now you may consider design a serious business, but Skype didn’t fuck your kids.

Consider the following:

  • The people who designed that interface you hate, are part of the design community too.
  • There’s a very good chance that there are more aspects to a given design problem than you’re aware of.
  • There are use cases other than your own to consider.
  • The designer in question probably has a LOT more real world usage data to back up his decisions than you do.
  • The things that contribute to an interface’s design are not necessarily in the user’s best interests.
  • Clients, bosses, product managers, and sales people can override design decisions.  And do.  Often.
  • Designing for 200+ million users across multiple platforms is probably not as easy as you think it is.

Now take a breath, and try to remember these things before you run to your twitter account to call a poor UI designer to be hung from the UX gallows.

Constructive criticism

On the other end of the spectrum, we have an excellent post by Lukas Mathis, who decided (after complaining bitterly, but somewhat more constructively than others) to post some ideas on how to improve the Skype 5 interface, which unsurprisingly was met with responses to each point by Andrew Borovsky the designer responsible for the Skype redesign, clearly explaining why certain decisions were considered and offering a bit more background info on why some ideas weren’t possible.  Some reasons were technical, some logical, and some political, such is the nature of design in big business.

This kind of constructive dialog is what the design community needs more of to thrive, and I urge every one of us to spend less time dismissing each other’s work, less time stroking each other’s egos, and more time learning from each other.

While I was writing this, @kaishin posted a follow-up article addressing the response to his first article.  I also renamed this article to be a bit less dramatic.  Sorry if you read this on RSS :)


  1. Picture of Mike M
    Mike M says:

    Hey - Don’t let the whiney misinformed trolls upset you.. When it comes down to it:

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