How to Respond to “Designers Are Not Important”
“Designers are not important.”
You might hear this at some point in your career.
It could be directed to you, or it could be implied in a statement.
If you hear this, it’s likely from someone who sees the world in black and white.
The reason it’ll be from this kind of individual is because design is anything other than black and white (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Why is that?
Because design is a reflection of the human spirit, and humans are not that simple.
We enjoy colors, we have visceral reactions to other humans, we feel many emotions–sometimes too many at once.
Designers take that complexity and translate it into the world through design.
That is why design can conjure an emotional response–because it’s a language upon itself that people can understand.
That is why design is important to any and every digital venture.
It is the yin to the developer’s yang. It is the right brain to the left brain.
It’s what we’re here to discuss.
Why Someone Might Say “Designers are NOT Important”
If someone says that designers aren’t important, what is likely their frame of thought? Where are they coming from with this opinion?
Recently, a colleague of mine said at our meeting that at his previous startup, they had no designers.
They had more than seven engineers and three or so managers, but no designers to do the designing.
This shocked me.
They can hire that many people of differing roles, but they didn’t think it necessary to include a designer?
“Who did the designing?” I asked.
“The managers,” he replied.
It was clear to me that they put no emphasis on designers or design from the way the team was built.
“They went out of business–they got sued. They should have hired lawyers,” he added.
I agreed with this fact.
But as a UX designer, I can think of dozens of ways the company could have gotten sued from not following WCAG accessibility standards.
If you face this situation or something similar, it might be from a product owner, developer, engineer, or an executive. The opinion can come from anywhere.
But this person is probably thinking this way because they have a logic-first mindset.
Logic-first individuals tend to see the world a little more in black and white than emotion-first individuals, and that means they respond better to quantitative statistics and proofs.
(This is not an article on bashing logic-first individuals. This is an article on how emotion-first individuals can better communicate with logic-first individuals.)
When you’re a designer, especially at an early startup, it’s hard to show this kind of evidence to prove that your work has results that bring value to the company.
Whenever you meet an individual who says something along the lines of, “designers are not important,” your first reaction might be to pounce with a quick quip, an angry sentiment, or a brick to the face (I do not sanction this action).
However, there are ways to “prove” your worth in a way they would understand better, and that is through speaking their language of logic.
Did you know that Michaelangelo hated his secretary so much that he painted him getting tortured by snakes in the…special men’s region…on the Vatican walls?
(Moral of the story, do not piss off designers or artists).
How to Respond to “Designers are NOT Important”
A previous boss of mine was a “black and white world” kind of guy.
He was an incredibly intelligent engineer.
I’m sure his way of thinking worked well for him in his field which involves a lot of logic, but it didn’t translate well when it came to having design opinions.
When we were choosing the primary color to the website, he wanted to use a muddy green color that might have passed as “great” in the ’90s…but not for this decade.
“I really don’t like this color,” I commented, and I explained why in detail.
“It’s fine, just use it,” he returned, and he left no room in the conversation to argue.
Even if I did argue, I knew I wouldn’t be able to change his mind with my opinion as the UX designer.
But I took a moment to use my UX empathy skills to understand the way he thinks.
“If he’s a very logical person,” I thought to myself, “then I need quantitative proof that users won’t like this color.
After the meeting, I thought of two other choices of colors that I believed were more delightful for users.
Then, I took one of the mockups I made on Sketch and applied the different colors: one was the green color my boss liked, one was a color I chose, and the last was another color I picked.
I changed ONLY the primary color so that there were no other variables as to why the user might like one mockup over another.
At the time, I was doing usability tests with users. At the end of the test, I showed them the three mockups side by side and asked, “Which of these do you like better?”
I interviewed at least eight individuals separately.
None of them chose the green.
I showed the results of my little experiment to my boss, and he promptly agreed to change the primary color.
(can we put a funny victory gif here? You can even make one haha)
The moral of my little story is that you need to understand how the other person thinks in order to respond in a way that makes sense to them.
Simply fighting them won’t make them see why designers are so important.
If they appear to be very logical, then respond with logic.
Show your ability to use statistics to support your work.
If you don’t have any personally, there is plenty of research online that can help you prove why designers who have a great understanding of design are necessary, or why an informed change in design by designers can greatly increase profits for a company.
For example, UX designers changed the word of one button from Register to Continue for Amazon after doing a usability test and were able to increase the number of customers who purchased from their website by 45%.
This, in turn, increased revenue for Amazon by $300,000,000.
Justinmind even has an article on how to calculate the ROI of your UX activities.
Use your empathy skills and ability to see the world in more than black and white in order to change hearts and minds.
You would be surprised at how impressing your biggest critic can turn them into your biggest fan.
What about you, do you have any stories like this? How did you handle it?
I would love to hear what others have done in similar situations.