UI/UX and Subjectivity

Because design is often confused with art, designers must contend with the (mistaken) opinion that design is purely subjective.

UI/UX is purely a matter of taste in much the same way that cooking is just a matter of taste.

There are a many cooks who can prepare delicious food. They have an instinct for the art, and often these instincts are rooted in very different approaches. Some rely on having quality raw ingredients and improvise based on what is available. Others attempt to rigidly emulate proven techniques documented by the masters, without deviation. Some experiment until they hit on a winning technique.

The difference between these people and professionals is that the professionals can articulate the why of their choices. Professional chefs have a deep understanding of their craft: the effects of temperature and handling, the interactions of ingredients, the limits of their tools, and the audience expectations surrounding presentation of food. Some of them are practically chemists of a culinary bent. They know the science and use it to inform their choices. This still leaves plenty of room for art and personality, but without the underlying understanding of principles it’s either lucky guesswork or unlucky guesswork.

Sadly, UI/UX is a field full of guesswork hams trying to pass for the real thing.

Cognition, perception, psychology, physiology. Audience and medium considerations. Reading the research and doing some of your own when you have unanswered questions. Professionals understand the science which informs their design decisions. Professionals are aware of the conventions that have bearing on their design decisions. And most importantly, a professional can explain themselves—though in retrospect, the explanation might seem obvious.

So if you meet a fellow who claims that design is subjective, tell them that they’re right, if they choose to work with the little-league practitioners.

If they’re developers, simply tell them that people who can’t explain their design decisions are like developers who don’t write documentation and tests. It doesn’t mean the code is bad, but it isn’t the mark of a professional.

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