Does A Designer’s Opinion Mean More Than The User’s?

Okay. I’m going to come out and say it. Designers are often way too territorial about their designs. It’s only natural, of course. You spend years and years developing your design skills, you create the ideal process for your ideal user to follow so that (you’re certain) they will get the best experience possible.

But here’s the thing: users may not stick to your original vision of how your design “should” be used. The truth is, they don’t have to, and, if your views on their user experience are off the mark, they shouldn’t.

We’re going to look at some ways in which users often give designers a run for their money when it comes to the ideal user experience, and explore whether a designer’s opinion means more than the user’s.

Technicality Versus Practicality

Sometimes, there is a clear battle between the designer’s creative vision and what the user really wants. This can be seen in major corporate projects as well as individual website designs for a single client. Designers, by virtue of being creative professionals, often let their ego get in the way of creating a truly functional product. Some of this is justified. After all, you want to maintain your reputation for quality, both functionally and visually.

But, as the saying goes, form follows function. You don’t want to get so caught up in maintaining your design’s visual appeal that you lose sight of what’s best for the user. The best way to avoid this pitfall is to regularly interact with your target audience. Talk to people who interact with your website, app, or other designs. Ask them questions about their experience – what they feel could be improved, how your design is helping them achieve solutions to their problems, et cetera.

This knowledge will be invaluable not just to your users and your clients, but also for expanding your career as a designer who really “gets” the ideal user experience.

Co-Opting Your Environment

Users, by definition, use things. Sounds obvious, I know, but many designers forget this simple fact, or think it only applies to a narrow set of rules. But people who use things are amazingly adaptable. They use the world around them to create their own design solutions, if the ones provided aren’t satisfactory. All users have this ability – including you.

Image Source: Vector Illustration of Modern Creative Office Workspace via Shutterstock.

Yes, you routinely violate many designers’ perfect visions for how you should be using their products. Ever scribbled a phone number or email address on the back of someone’s business card? You rebellious user, you. From holding a supposedly “ergonomic” pen or tool in a way that’s unconventional, but more comfortable for you, to breaking out the sugru and physically altering a product to fit your individual needs, we all take advantage of what I call the user’s authority.

Following Leaders And Precedents

Once a design leaves your studio, it officially belongs to the user, and they will adapt it however they see fit. People use design to communicate with one another out in the world, often in ways that the designer never intended or even expected. Your design may end up serving a completely different purpose than what it was originally created for.

Think about the last time you gave directions to a tourist or someone in your town who was lost. You probably told them something closer to “head left at the intersection with the weird billboard,” rather than rattled off a dry list of street names. Design infiltrates our daily lives, and we use it as placeholders, markers, and guides every day.

Does The Design Slow Down Progress?

The most important thing to consider in any design is whether the user can solve the problem they have with the maximum amount of efficiency. If your design is impeding them from doing this, then it’s a failure as a design.

Again, talking to your target users will yield a wealth of information that can help you avoid this common crisis. I’m not talking about formal “focus group” style research either. Even something as simple as a 5 question email survey can help tremendously in the design process.

Image Source: 3D Illustration of Modern Computer Template via Shutterstock.

For example, if you don’t know that the majority of your users are skipping the calls to action that you’ve added to your website, pretty much the only way you can find this out is by interacting with them.

It’s unlikely that they’re going to tell you on their own, and, quite honestly, it’s not their responsibility to do so. You’re the designer – it’s your job to make sure that your designs are providing maximum efficiency for your users.

Building Up Trust

Well designed websites instill a sense of trust in the user. When you see a crappy looking website, your first instinct is that it’s probably a bit shady, or even an outright scam. Why? Well, because a legitimate business will usually at least make an attempt to have a professional looking front.

What Do You Think?

How do you think designers can adapt to their user’s needs and demands without sacrificing their creative ideals for their design projects?

(73 Posts)

Addison Duvall is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, art, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.


  • danielle brittany

    It is a tough one, but the user’s experience is the most important – after all, you are designing for them, not for you.

    A more controversial dynamic would be designer & client – the barrier between designer & user.

  • Neurothsutra

    the problem with user-first approach though is that the user wants familiarity. A designer is such because it’s their job to apply expertise. UX is one thing, but the user should not carry greater or even equal weight when it comes to the development of that experience.

  • This is a milliondollar question. First I don’t think you can have
    innovative design without designer’s stepping outside the box. BUT!
    Outside of the creative mad science lab you need to integrate the user
    needs into your design. If the users can not navigate the information
    quickly and seamlessly that design will fail. So what’s the line between
    a users needs and users wants vs budget and companies own personal

  • I totally agree with Danielle that sometimes either a client’s lack of technical understanding or lack of budget can create a barrier between design and user experience.

  • tonya lafargue

    I tend scrutinize most everything automatically for ways it can serve a dual purpose or act as a multitask tool. Our family owned business’ cards have a faint imprint of our logo & contact BECAUSE people tend to write notes on the back of them. We WANT them to.

    We work in Architecture/Construction/Design and the sustainable trend has absolutely transformed the way we market & reach out to subs AND clients. Now we are able to appeal to their need or sometimes just their hobby of education.

    These are just a few of the ways we use design in ways that have sparked incredible growth in our thought progress as a company, a family and as individuals. We are excited again to have new and progressive ideas to present to our vendors & clients in our marketing materials, our building concepts & our business concepts.

    So far it is beyond pleasing to both us as designers and our users!

  • Jordan Julien

    I think good design includes the user; so I’m going to say a designers opinion does mean more than any single user. The issue is that we’ll never know what the ‘collective user’ wants. We can do all the testing we want; but only have a small sample size.

    I believe, the best approach is to allow the designer latitude with the initial designs; but iterate once a starting point as been established. We can include the user early, when the product is still with the experience designer – and visual design is still flexible. We should also ensure that multivariate testing is included post-launch – and that the design team has time allocated to address any changes MVT might lead to.

    I generally agree, it’s not about who’s opinion is more valuable. A designer, can get some extremely valuable insights from users; but in the end, it’s the designer who’ll make the initial design recommendation; so the initial authority lies with the designer.

  • JJJ

    It totally depends who you ask :) Your paying client, your stakeholders, your visitors… all have a very different opinion about the value of a designer’s opinion ;)

  • Tim

    This goes for coders/programmers, as well. All to often I see things created without a designer’s involvement and they are way overcomplicated with technical features that have to be understood before they can be used. Both the Magento and Drupal admin interfaces are perfect examples of this.

  • BOY! This old chestnut. I’ll admit, as a designer I do sometimes feel a little territorial, but it dosen’t help when a really clueless client. Informed and smart clients are a god send, and I’ll gladly modify my designs (for a price ;) ) to accommodate their needs.