At least, in the final reckoning.

Something which comes up over and over in my work is the tendency of clients to request design changes which I don’t particularly care for. This isn’t to say that they’re ugly, per se — after all, the fact that I don’t like them isn’t actually equal to “ugly.”

Early on, I would argue with clients concerning these design changes — try and get them to see my perspective, etc. But the fact is that aesthetics are not objective. Opinion matters; and it’s ultimately the client’s decision.

Now, I only argue with decision which cause problems. You want that to be blue instead of green? Fine. Doesn’t matter to me that it’s going to clash with the rest of the color scheme. But you want that text to be blue against an orange background? That, I won’t do. That’s the kind of decision which will render the text unreadable — and I’m not willing to do it.

Occasionally in my consulting practice I encounter designers (or stories about designers) who are so wrapped up in control over their design that they barely consider the client’s needs, let alone the needs of usability and accessibility. That’s unfortunate; since in the end, what your website looks like just barely registers for many visitors.

I sincerely believe (unscientifically) that most visitors only notice website design in one of three ways:

  1. The design prevents them from effectively using the site.
  2. The design is absolutely spectacular.
  3. The design is absolutely horrific.

Do you really want your design to be attracting attention? Certainly not for reasons numbers 1 and 3, and although the second reason is positive, it’s not necessarily best for every site. Incredible design doesn’t necessarily support your business in the best way; it could just get in the way. This can’t be decided universally, of course — and it’s never a bad thing to strive for a great design.

It’s hard to ask questions about whether people noticed the design of a site. After all, it’s rather a quantum query: once you’ve asked, they will observe. The act of asking changes the experience of the visitor. Even in a usability test, it’s hard to identify this observation. Even though you can set up the scenario more effectively, if your testers are still aware that they are testing the site, they will tend to be more observant than otherwise.

You can’t TELL somebody to just “act normally” during a test, unfortunately. It doesn’t work that way….

Nonetheless, the rules I will work to avoid are clear: don’t make it horrible, and don’t let it get in the user’s way. Otherwise, what it looks like is open territory. I’ll try to make it look as good as I can, but if a client wants a change — they’ll get it.