How to Deal With Bad Design.

Good design often hides itself; bad design can’t be hidden.

Ravi Shankar Rajan
Feb 16 · 7 min read
Image Credits: Pixabay.com

By the way, good design is rarely recognized.

What? You don’t believe me right? OK. Do one thing. Go to Google home page and search for anything of your choice. Go ahead; just type whatever you want to search.

I bet, your sequence of activities will be as follows.

· You went to google page and put some words in the search box.

· You got the results in some milliseconds.

· You clicked on one or two links and got what you wanted.

· End of story.

Did you miss something here? The Google home page is an epitome of good UX design due to its ultra-simplicity and high user experience. And yet you didn’t even stop for one second to admire its interface. I bet the thought “wow, this is well designed,” would have never crossed your mind even once.

Don’t’ be guilty. You are not at fault here. Good design is supposed to hide itself. Most people don’t acknowledge great design because well-designed things always take a back seat to the experience they create. A designer may recognize the fundamental role that design plays in making great experiences possible, but most people don’t.

But people do recognize bad design and bad design cannot be hidden. Take WhatsApp for example.

WhatsApp rose to fame as the number 1 chat app thanks to great UX and a clean interface. But I am sure most of us will vividly remember it’s one really bad feature; the delete message feature.

For example, you’re drafting a personal message to send to a close friend on WhatsApp, and you accidentally send it to someone else you don’t know very well. No problem! Thanks to WhatsApp’s ‘delete for everyone’ feature, you can delete it and pretend like it never happened. But then something strange happens when you delete it.

Whatsapp message source

This is bad UX which the user remembers. Informing the recipient that the sender has deleted a message defeats the purpose of deleting it in the first place. In fact, it creates suspicion and is likely to prompt an awkward “why did you delete the message?” type of response. Bad isn’t it?

This is an example of design failure. WhatsApp has probably hundreds of good features that users take as “granted” but this bad feature rises out like a “sore” thumb.

That said, everyone has an opinion about design, which makes a designer’s job challenging. A CEO sketches a new homepage on a napkin to mimic a site she used and liked. A developer stays late one night and adds a new feature he thinks would be cool. Or a product manager insists on adopting the same look and feel that of his competitor. Add to it, a potpourri of other elements like culture, politics, product schedule and people who enjoy design (even fancy themselves as designers) but who lack any real design expertise.

You get the picture here. More than developing a good design, a designer needs to deal with bad design and successfully fend it off in spite of extremely lopsided odds or pressure (read power). That is why Chris Lema says that good designers are tailors and bad ones are real estate agents.

Real estate agents can help you find the perfect house. They are paid once you get the house. But they get paid, irrespective of whether you have good taste or bad in your selection of house.

A tailor on the other hand also gets paid once you get what you want, but their job is to make you look good. They get future work only once they make you look good.

In short, a tailor has an opinion and his opinion matters. Good designers also have opinions. So if somebody comes with a design idea (good or bad), they have a strong opinion about it. If it is good, they will go and implement it. If it is bad, they will not succumb to the pressure and tell them precisely why it is bad. In other words, the design is not all about you. It is all about rendering the best possible service to somebody else.

And here are some ways to deal with bad design.

Lose the Ego.

The 1st step is to leave your ego at home. You might be the greatest designer on earth but you don’t have a monopoly over good ideas. So it makes sense to keep an open and objective mind.

Diversity of perspectives leads to more effective design. It may very well be the case that, those making the suggestions have little design knowledge but may have a different kind of expertise or experience which you lack. So respect that. Acting like the czar of the design stifles others’ creativity, which ultimately leads to poorer outcomes.

At the same time, you should have a point of view. There is a difference between ego fuelled design and design built with a point of view. Ego control only means putting “me” out of the equation so that you can honestly look at the work and establish a point of view that will make the design better.

Remember Ego-control doesn’t mean less of you, it means less pressure to prove who you are and more effort on respecting the good nuggets in the bad.

Don’t accuse. Explain.

Understand the objective behind the design. Is he thinking of a different user group or business need? Keep asking “what?” and “why?” until you understand what that problem is.

Once you identify the origin of the idea, you can break it down into the benefits and the problems. No idea is 100% bad; it will surely have elements of good design in it, however minimal it might be. for example, using a hamburger menu for the large-screen version of a website impairs users’ ability to navigate easily. This is a very important reason not to use it. However, a hamburger on desktop also presents a visually appealing, uncluttered header. This is a trade-off that needs to be assessed objectively.

Acknowledge the benefits. Here is your chance to be diplomatic. Praise and highlight the good pieces and have a strong opinion with the bad ones. Mention in clear objective terms, unless the bad ones are removed or updated, the good ones will be lost and the design will fail ultimately.

For example, your client has said for the third time that the way you’ve arranged elements in the header is “just not quite right” and has proposed something really bad. Rather than entering into an endless cycle of “no”, this is a chance for you to explain the rationale behind the design decision and why his design is a bad one.

Explaining design rationale is necessary because, without an explanation, it will become a subjective, opinion game and in opinion games, nobody wants to lose. Logic is the only saving factor here.

Act like an expert (not like a jerk).

There is a right way of saying “no”. There is also a wrong way of saying “no”. Good designers always use the design thinking philosophy of ideation, research, and user feedback before trashing any design.

identifying the pros and cons of an idea might require to do the following.

· Reviewing previous data if the idea has been tested.

· Building a prototype either as a POV or A/B test

· Identifying and validating its alignment with industry best practices.

· Cost implications and the trade-offs that might have to be done to implement it.

Once your assessment determines the idea should not be implemented, you can say no in a positive way. Let them know that you were really listening during their proposal, you’ve done some research of your own, and according to that research, your design only may bring the desired results than what they are telling. If you really want to go the extra mile, have some studies on hand that back it up.

You are the expert and if you prove it with data, nobody will say or argue any further.

Last thoughts.

Lastly, use the right language for the right situation.

You need to acknowledge that they had tried and you valued their effort. The moment people are engaged enough to make a suggestion is the ideal time to help them learn more about UX and spread the UX knowledge throughout your team. Take advantage of these teachable moments by communicating the reasoning for your assessment and make it a learning experience for all.

You can go one step further by involving all of them early in the design process so that a collaborative environment can be fostered. You can make everyone contribute by seeking input in a structured manner, such as scheduled workshops, roadshows, etc. Remember a proactive collaborative approach is any day better than a reactive “bad-idea” deflecting approach. Be inclusive. Let everybody be part of your design. Be the tailor who makes everybody look good.

As H.E. Luccock has rightly said.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

About the author-:

Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast, and history maniac. Connect with Ravi on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter.

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Thanks to Caio Braga

Ravi Shankar Rajan

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Technology Manager,Poet,Archaeology Enthusiast,History Maniac.Also a prolific writer on varied topics from AI to Love.

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