How much time do you put in to understanding the perspective of others? Do you judge anything that differs from your own personal taste as poor quality?
Today I want to talk about personal taste and learning to appreciate a perspective not your own. You don’t have to agree with the perspective, but you should respect it and learn to appreciate it.
Ryan’s article defends Taylor Swift’s music as part of a larger point about appreciating the perspective of others. I’m not particularly against Taylor Swift’s music, though I’d hardly call myself a fan. I can certainly appreciate where the music comes from.
The idea is that different types of music use a different vocabulary to communicate and you should understand that vocabulary before passing judgement. Here are a couple of quotes from Ryan’s article.
It’s easy to dismiss music and musicians without listening closely when you don’t take the time to learn the language they’re using, to discover where the intelligence and artistry lies.
it often requires intellectual/emotional openness and very close listening (or, like, dancing) to understand what a piece of music is getting at, what language it’s speaking, what feelings it wants to evoke—even who its target audience might be—before we can fairly judge what’s successful or unsuccessful about it.
I think the idea of communicating with different vocabularies and having different perspectives extends beyond music. It’s true of all creative work. It’s true of business. It’s true of life.
Everything doesn’t have to be for everyone. Many things require you put some effort into the consuming (listening, reading, or viewing) before you can appreciate what went into the creation and often through that appreciation you learn to enjoy something you might not have enjoyed otherwise.
Understand Before Judging
As an industry web designers can be quick to judge the work of others (In fairness it’s people in all industries that do this). Take logos for example. Whenever a large company introduces a new logo, it seems to get panned across the web as garbage.
When Apple, Google, Microsoft or any other large company redesigns their operating systems or release new versions of software, posts are written talking about what each got right and wrong. It’s good that we discuss and critique designs, but we shouldn’t rush to judgement.
Too often we judge without an appreciation of the designers who created the new site, operating, system, or software. Did the designers have all the time they wanted? What’s their roadmap? Are they introducing something today that won’t be entirely finished until the next release?
We may not truly appreciate the constraints the designers we’re judging worked under. Perhaps something we think they should have done wasn’t technically possible. Maybe the designers were overruled by marketing or the CEO.
I know a certain amount of what ends up in client sites isn’t always my choice. It’s my best attempt to integrate a client’s choice into the design, but it’s not always what I thought best for the design.
I think the larger point of Ryan’s post is not to judge until you’ve walked in another person’s shoes. It’s important to think and speak critically, but we should do our homework first.
Design is Subjective
As I’ve tried to get across a number of times design is subjective. Everything that involves human beings is subjective because it involves a human being. It’s subjective by definition.
People bring their own perspective, their own context to your design. Many will judge your site purely on aesthetics and based on their perspective of what aesthetics should be.
We can’t expect visitors to spend time analyzing our visual language in order to understand our perspective in designing the site. Hopefully in time they do learn our visual language, but in the beginning they just need to use the site.
If you’re familiar with Maslow’s pyramid, and how it placs necessities like food, clothing, and shelter at the bottom and creative and spiritual things at the top, it suggests the higher up you get in the pyramid, the more perspective and subjectivity come into play.
It suggests that fewer people will like or appreciate your aesthetic choices. That’s ok. It’s to be expected. What we can and should do is gain a better understanding of the context visitors will bring and specifically design a site for their perspective and taste. Still any aesthetic treatment is going turn some away.
Who Are You Designing For?
As a business owner, creator, service provider, etc. you should realize you aren’t going to please everyone and instead focus in order to appeal to a specific group within the whole. It’s ok to turn some people away in order to please others. Not realizing this was one of the mistakes I made in my first business.
You aren’t designing a site for you. You’re designing a site for your client or rather their clients or customers. Each of your client’s customers will visit with a different perspective, a different context.
We aren’t necessarily familiar with a client’s industry. I’ve been familiar with some, but others I had to learn starting with zero or near zero knowledge.
You have to learn to appreciate other perspectives if you’re going to design a site that motivates them to click or call or buy something. It’s where speak their language and not industry jargon comes in.
We can’t realistically know everything about every visitor, but we can do what we can to understand the common perspectives of potential clients and customers. These often become personas. The more we understand them, the more we can create something in a language they understand. The more we can use a visual language that communicates to them.
Clients have Perspective Too
It’s not just site visitors. What about your clients and their perspectives? I’ve had several clients who couldn’t see anything other than their own perspectives. They assume everyone consumes websites exactly as they do.
I have one client who refuses to add a contact form to his site, because he doesn’t like or trust them and won’t ever use them. He assumes everyone else views them the same way.
Just because my client can’t get past that perspective it doesn’t mean I have to be locked into it. While I’ve yet to get my client to change his mind (He’s very stubborn), I could try again by understanding him better and getting to the root of the issue. Why doesn’t he like forms? In his case it’s worry about spam.
He thinks anything that asks for an email address can only be a harvester adding his email to the list to spam. What if we added a form on his site with words like “we never spam” or “we never share your email address” or something similar. Would he let me add a contact form? Maybe I won’t change his perspective, but maybe I can get him to a agree to a better solution by understanding it.
I’ve been a client, a customer, and in general I’m a person who appreciates the creation of things. I don’t think it’s a stretch if I say you are too. We can’t assume our tastes are universal, though. They aren’t. They’re ours. Your taste is yours and mine is mine. They might overlap in places, but they don’t have to.
Ideally we’ve both developed our taste more than typical, given the nature of the work we do. We might even do the work in part because of our developed taste. Still your taste is your taste and my taste is my taste.
Just because you like one operating system or one brand of smartphone, it doesn’t mean that OS or phone is best for everyone. That’s ignoring the perspective of others. Just because you like something in a design doesn’t mean everyone will or that it’s right or best for the design.
Someone listening to music you don’t like or looking at art you don’t get or reading a book you don’t care for isn’t automatically lacking taste. Maybe they do lack taste, but don’t assume it. Ask them why they like what they’re listening to or looking at or reading. Instead of judging, try to understand.
Try to appreciate a perspective not your own. If you have judgements to make after go ahead, but first try to understand. I think the world would be a better place if we all did this. If instead of being quick to judge we took the time to understand what we’re judging first.
As designers we should do everything we can to understand our client’s and their clients or customers. Instead of thinking every disagreement is solved by us educating our clients, why don’t we try to understand where our clients are coming from and maybe educate ourselves a little more.
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