Common Practice vs. Best Practice
These days there are hundreds of ways to keep up with the latest in the design world. There are blogs to follow, feeds to subscribe to, newsletters to read, and dribbble to peruse. It is so easy to find inspiration and examples for almost any problem you are trying to solve.
I see a problem with that though. It is to easy to come back to the average. To fall into the trends and "best practices." Who says that something is a best practice just because it has been posted about often? Just because some big name designer or company does something doesn't mean it's the right solution (remember Facebook and HTML5 or Apple and Skeuomorphism).
It is easy for beginners to fall into the trap of designing the way they think it should be. It is a form of peer pressure. By looking at all of the examples out there it makes it even harder to stray from the standards on a new design.
I'm currently working on a new task management app (yeah, I know). I started playing with the visual design the other day and began to show it to people. I got pretty good responses. People understood what the app did and what everything meant. I was feeling pretty good about myself and my design, and then I showed it to my girlfriend. She looked at it and gave me the most honest feedback yet. She said, “this looks great and I understand what the app does, but it looks just like everything else.”
Initially I brushed this off and said to myself “it's like that because that is the best way to solve the problem.” However I’m glad she said that, it made me began to question the “Why” behind my design choices. Was I actually thinking about solving my problem or just blending a bunch of things I liked in other apps and putting them into mine?
To be honest, I don't know.
What I do know is that all of the blogs, newsletters and designers I follow are influencing my design decisions. For better or worse, they are going to be in the back of my mind throughout the design process. For the most part, they influence in a productive way. However, it is to easy to take what is published around the Internet as “best practice.” As designers, we have a responsibility to our users. We have to make sure that we aren’t backing our design decisions with the reasoning that “everyone is doing it that way.”
Obviously there is no reason to re-invent the wheel every time. That is not what I’m arguing for. I also am not arguing that there needs to be less sharing in the design industry. Instead, I argue that we share and collaborate responsibly. That we pay attention to common practices, but never follow these practices blindly.
Note: I’m on Twitter and would love to talk more about this if anyone is interested.