User Centered Design vs. Ego Centered Design

Why print designers need to realign their thought process and mentality to become effective application designers.

The print process flows something like this: rough sketch is pitched, revised and refined finally into production ready comp. Client signs off on comp and nothing can change. Client expects exactly what was pitched. And that is what gets delivered. Why so rigid? Because there is no turning back once the ad runs in a magazine/newspaper or hundreds and thousands of brochures are printed. There is no other way but to be perfect. Therefore, delivering exactly what is pitched is engrained in the culture. In that respect, I acknowledge the bravery, admire and respect those who work in such cut-throat environment. I was there once, so I’m being honest here.

Ego enhancement and gratification
Print designers expect and get the end result exactly as they designed it. Production is typically a printer. Whether it’s advertising, magazine, annual report, or small time brochure, seeing the final printed product exactly as one designed and envisioned is the ultimate ego trip. Imagine what this will do to one’s brain. Experiencing this kind of gratification day in day out, year after year nurtures the belief that one’s design and vision is impregnable. In print design, getting back something with even a minute deviation is unfathomable. However, this is the one habit one should certainly discard when transitioning to online medium.

Typically, an advertising or print design campaign is a one-man ran event. One person – the creative director is running the entire show. The CD sets the vision, leads, and is a primary contact and liaison for clients. The end result is the exact rendition of the creative director’s vision. In the online sphere, however, the end product isn’t so much a manifestation of one person’s vision. Internet applications are result of many diverse expertise working in harmony. No single person has (should have) the last word. The creative leader’s vision here is the accumulative result consisting of contributions from everyone involved. Teams responsible for performance, security, maintenance, database, compatibility, usability, and design all have equally critical role. Naively applying the print mentality here will certainly result in a product that probably excels in one area but one that fails miserably in all other.

Another area that needs realigning is the definition of creativity. In print, creativity is often thought of as being different merely for the sake of being different purely on aesthetics and style. Tending to and exercising cool and hip does not have a cost. It simply gets printed as designed. End of story. In a stark contrast, everything has a cost in the online world. Creativity does not simply mean ‘wow-effect’ at any cost. Every design decision and functionality has to be carefully gauged against benefits versus cost, effort and consequence. Neglect in this regard can lead to devastating results. Performance, security, maintenance, compatibility, usability, and functionality are all codependent on each other. True creativity is one that brings all of these aspects together to perform in harmony.

The goal of advertising is to manipulate the audience. Mostly convincing people to buy things otherwise not bought. Whether the product offers genuine value to the customer is rarely considered because the primary goal is to sell and glorify. Why do I mention this? The point is, there is no empathy in advertising design or in any traditional print design for that matter. How often do print designers user test their layout to find out how easy it is to read? Right. Never. Users are almost never considered during the design process. Designers who become accustomed to this type of environment and practice lack empathy. This is a critical difference. Lack of empathy and lack of consideration for users can be devastating as web/internet professional.

The print design world is what it is. It will remain so as long as there are people. But the design model is changing for the rest of the industry facing human interaction. Designing around how people see things, not how the designer see things.

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