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"ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" <[log in to unmask]>
Jim Griesemer <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 24 Mar 2006 05:41:06 -0800
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Thank you for your responses. Though my survey sample
size turned out to be small, I think the responses I
did get provide very good anecdotal information.
Below, I’ve listed my original questions followed by
responses, in quotes, by instances of experience. I’ve
removed everyone’s names and companies. Be sure to
read all the way to the end. I added comments I
received from “the other side of the fence” – another
Graphic Designer’s experience of working with
Usability Professionals. It’s good to know there are
other Graphic Designers out there reading CHI-WEB.


Q: Were Graphic Designers understanding of usability


“The designers I worked with were incredibly
talented--and because the focus of our sites was
marketing to a consumer audience, they had a good
understanding of the usability associated with same. 
They were conscientious people who recognized that--in
order to be good, holistic designers--it was key to
understand the audience and its goals when designing a
site .  The additional factor of wanting to win cool
design awards was certainly a factor in how they
operated; however, this particular group of designers
did a good job of balancing both.”

 “Many of them are trained and passionate about
usability and accessibility, but our corporate culture
is generally unaware of these matters.  We are
advocates / evangelists for usability in web UI. 
There are occasional overlaps ( a.k.a. "conflicts")
between what "we" (the UCDs) do and what "they" (the
graphic designers) do--but generally, most of us try
to be communicative and collaborative and ensure that
we are doing what is best for the company as far as
building usable and accessible web sites is

“What I've found is that any graphic designer who's
not wrapped up in being an 'artiste' (and I've only
encountered one of those) is completely open to
anything that's going to make a better design. As a
usability/IA person, I just have to phrase my
requirements properly and give them an understanding
of why there are certain constraints. Graphic
Designers in general seem to be happy with constraints
- it gives them a problem to solve. When discussing
the design and changes I'd like I make sure to phrase
it in such terms as 'This element needs to be
stronger' or 'Can the connection between these two
areas be tighter'. This then gives them direction
without specifying actual design decisions. I've found
it works really well and the designer seems happy with
it”. Having said all of this I also find there are two
areas that I continually have 'strong discussions'
about with graphic designers -  larger font and
resizable display - they all seem to want to work in
fixed  display in teeny tiny fonts - designers! :)

[Understanding?] “Yes, but to a varying degree,
depending on the person.”
[Dismissive?] “No, but I'm a consultant and generally
pick my own visual designer. I'm about to start
working with an in-house person, so it could be

“I went from an environment where I was an enemy of
design to a very different and more open environment
where after a short period of unspoken tension,
designers started to accept and embrace UCD with open
arms. What was the difference? Were the designers
better and more open minded? Did I change my approach?
Of course there is no simple answer to these questions
but I can honestly say that the biggest difference
between the two was completely out of my control. It
was down to the management and organizational
structure. In the first experience 'usability' was
placed in the strategy team and sold as a completely
separate skill which was brought in after design work
had taken place to critique rather than assist. I was
one of the first usability people they'd had and as
they didn't know where to put me at first, eventually
I ended up in the design team. I was no longer an
'outsider' and I was integrated into the design

“Their experience and passion in usability varied
greatly.  It just depends!”

“When I first started out in Usability in a Web Agency
I was told in no uncertain terms by the creative
director that I was not to set foot in his studio
because he was in the business of creativity and my
only interest was to stifle it. The designers tended
to see me and my witchcraft as a totally unnecessary
because it really didn't matter what users wanted, it
was his job to deliver things they didn't know they

“From my experience -- working with the Web since 1993
– most ‘graphic designers’ are *utterly* uninterested
in *anything* but ‘pretty pictures’. Caring about
usability, understanding the technology being used --
nope. I can count on the fingers of one hand the ones
I've known who *don't* fit that description.” [I
assume that last sentence is in reference to the
“uncaring” description]

Q: Did they entertain suggestions on alternate designs
or were they resistant to it? 


[Entertained suggestions? ] “Yes, it's not a power
struggle, but again, I get to pick whom I work with.”
[Dismissive?] “No”

“In 2003 I worked with a graphic designer on a safety
brochure - there I did all the layout - it was my idea
to do a four panel brochure and what to put on it and
the graphic designer produced images under my
direction-- in this case this worked well for me and
the product. It seemed there was a clear division of
labor--but maybe I was encroaching on the territory of
the graphic designer.”

“Recently I've been seeing the line of ownership on
information design blurring - last week I was in a
meeting where the ‘graphic designers’ were citing good
data about how long the lines should be for
instructions and easy to find and identify chapter
headings but they had no knowledge of warning labels
and or how to word instructions- this group of
designers was also aware of making two-column

Q: Were they insightful or “off the deep end”?


[Insightful?] “To varying degrees. I look to a visual
designer to take my skeletal designs and do something
really creative. If it's just a colorization of my
simple layouts, it's disappointing.”
[Off the deep end?] “Unclear what you mean.” 
[What I meant was design for it’s own sake, without
regard to legibility or usability]

Q: Were they forthcoming or secretive about concepts
in their discipline?


[Forthcoming?] “Yes” [Secretive?] “No”

Q: Did they approach the project with humility or an
elitist attitude?


[Humilty?] “Yes” [Elitist?] “No”

Q: Some other description?


“The people I work with recognize that visual design
supports the information hierarchy and is not, as a
friend pointed out, just ‘lipstick on a pig’ --
something to turn the truly horrendous into something
palatable.  Perhaps I've been lucky. Even when I ran a
design group, all of the graphic designers were
interested in usability, even those I did not hire. As
a consultant, I haven't had many experiences with
in-house graphic design and I only choose colleagues
to work with who share my attitude.”

[On my comment about being perceived negatively as a
Graphic Designer] “Yep, I'm afraid that's my reaction
to that title. And even more so to the title of "Web
Designer" when it's applied to someone whose only
skills are graphical. Hope that's useful, and that I
have to change my mind one of these fine days! :-)”
[My comment: I hope so too!]

“Anecdotally I heard that graphic designers and human
factors people at Kodak were put into the same group
because they seemed to be doing basically the same
thing but neither was group was happy and neither
seemed to have authority at making certain decisions”


[Comments from the Other Side of the Fence]

“I'm a graphic/web designer who's been masquerading in
the usability department of a large insurance company.
I'm constantly surprised at how little understanding
there is here of the designer's craft; there's an
attitude (sometimes even stated in front of clients!)
that designers don't care about the user and are only
there to "make things pretty." Standards and design
patterns have taken over to the point where everything
is so bland and one-style that the users are confused
as to where they are on the intranet, there's so
little differentiation. Morale is so low that the
design department has washed their hands of the
intranet entirely. Every time I've used my design
skills to enliven and clarify a site, I've gotten
slapped down. A simple department brochure site (for
the Usability Services department!) is six months
overdue because they're still working out the IA;
there's been _six_ rounds of testing on it. It's just
ghastly. I've learned a lot about testing, but what
I've also learned is that if you need to get anything
done efficiently, don't talk to the usability people
because you'll never get a decision. In fact, next
week I'm running a test to see if it's better for the
required-field asterisk to go on the right side or the
left side of the label. No s**t!! $2000+ in manhours
to decide what side the asterisk goes on. I'm turning
in my notice today." 

"I've turned your survey around a little. As examples,
from your experience, did you find the Usability

Understanding of Design issues? "NO"
Dismissive of Design issues? "YES"
Willing to entertain suggestions on alternate layout
and design? "NO"
Resistant to suggestions? "YES"
Insistent only on their design solution? "YES"
Insightful? "sometimes"
“Off the deep end?” "sometimes"
Forthcoming with concepts from their discipline?
"They never stop talking about Nielsen, and forget the
Secretive about their discipline? "no"
Approached the project with humility? "NO"
Approached the project with an elitist attitude? "YES"


My additional comments: 

I sense that people’s experience generally runs from
“excellent” to “it depends”. When the experience is
bad, it’s *really* bad, probably from both
perspectives. I think the gaps that do exist between
Graphic Designers and Usability Professionals can be
bridged. But, I think it will take two important
relational conditions:

1) An understanding and appreciation of the value of
each discipline to the members of the other

2) A realization that design is no longer the sole job
of any one discipline. It’s a collaborative effort
that requires condition 1 (above) to be present.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a semantic movement
towards “Design, with a capital D,” giving people in
many different disciplines license to call themselves,
simply, “A Designer”. This strikes me as an effective
way to foster competition between disciplines, not
collaboration, which is sorely needed. 

I would like to suggest that Usability Professionals
and Graphic Designers (I will add Engineers and
Writers) are all part of the same “brain” that creates
something as complex as a Web site or application.
Disciplines may reside in different hemispheres, but,
the brain *must* function as a whole. Let’s not create
“Agenesis of the corpus callosum” by fostering
conflict between the sides (Note symptoms:
).  Instead, let’s create a bigger, better “corpus
callosum.” In fact, in addition to the UCD movement, I
propose a CCD movement (corpus callosum designo – or
perhaps, Collaborative Centered Design). I will be
happy to start it here -- it can only help!

Regards, Jim Griesemer 

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