Thoughtful Design Criticism

A call for more thoughtful design criticism from Michael Bierut that becomes more relevant with each passing year:

The basic starting point of Graphic Design Criticism as a Spectator Sport is “I could have done better.” And of course you could! But simply having the idea is not enough. Crafting a beautiful solution is not enough. Doing a dramatic presentation is not enough. Convincing all your peers is not enough. Even if you’ve done all that, you still have to go through the hard work of selling it to the client. And like any business situation of any complexity whatsoever, that process may be smothered in politics, handicapped with exigencies, and beset with factors that have nothing to do with design excellence. You know, real life. Creating a beautiful design turns out to be just the first step in a long and perilous process with no guarantee of success. Or, as Christopher Simmons put it more succinctly, “Design is a process, not a product.”

Doing design in the real world is rarely about design. It’s about working with people amidst complexity. Bierut writes about graphic design, but the same parallel he draws around the layman’s heightened awareness of graphic design extends just as much, if not more, to software design. People care deeply about their relationships with software products. Substitute “app” for “logo”:

But perhaps the question in these logo discussions could be more than: could I do better? Perhaps we could also ask: what was the purpose? What was the process? Whose ends were being served? How should we judge success? But we seldom look any deeper than first impressions, wallowing instead in a churning maelstrom of snap judgments. Should we be surprised when the general public jumps right in after us?

Where is the thoughtful, articulate criticism for software product design? Bierut’s quotation of Massimo Vignelli’s call to action is apt:

It is time to debate, to probe the values, to examine the theories that are part of our heritage and to verify their validity to express our times.