“Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.” -Marie, “When Harry Met Sally”
Nora Ephron wrote (fictional) Marie’s line in 1989, a gentle reminder to the world that we all think our personal opinions are the right opinions. In a recent A List Apart article, Nishant Kothary makes the same point when discussing Jack Hamilton’s perspective on singer Ryan Macklemore:
“What was most interesting about Hamilton’s piece was the unfortunate, but abundantly common, message hidden between the lines: if you enjoy Macklemore, you have terrible taste in music.”
Later in his article, Kothary points out that this gray line between subjective opinion and objective fact goes back to the 17th century:
“The gist of [17th century philosopher David Hume’s] essay seems to be that beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder, but that some beholders are better able to identify that elusive, but existent, true beauty. Hume even provided a five-part litmus test—strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice—for identifying these truly skilled beholders.” – Good Taste Doesn’t Matter
In other words, we all see beauty differently. What’s it got to do with UX design?
My Personal Opinion
Hamilton’s opinion on Macklemore is a personal opinions. So is Marie’s statement about her boyfriend’s table. My personal opinion is that the most beautiful, well written, extraordinarily jaw dropping piece of music written in the past hundred years is without a doubt “Barber’s Adagio.” I have a list of criteria that proves it. But I must admit that my criteria is subjective.
Luckily, my opinion on Barber’s Adagio doesn’t impact anyone. No lives depend upon this decision. Nor does anyone’s ability to use a website or enjoy their music. My personal opinion may be right or wrong. It affects no one but myself.
My Professional Opinion
When a client asks my opinion, then my opinion does impact others. My personal beliefs need to be vetted. When I give my personal opinions, I need to be certain they’re well informed. There are two reasons for this: to protect myself, and to protect my client.
In other words, if I give personal advice that is not carefully researched and vetted, it could reflect poorly on me. Equally, if the client takes my subjective opinion as fact, it could reflect poorly on the project.
That’s why we need to set aside professional opinions in favor of best practices.
Best practices are nothing but vetted opinion. Best practices point out that even though I love green, it may not be the best choice on a website that may have colorblind users. They come and go with fads, they’re impacted by research and testing, and perhaps most importantly, they are not rules.
I’ve found that although I love Barber’s Adagio, it’s best practice to play Macklemore at a party. I’ve learned that I am not my users. And I’ve learned to listen to my instincts, but validate my decisions.
When to Use Best Practices
Best practices are particularly valuable for a few key situations:
- My personal preference and my client’s personal preference differ
- I’m not convinced the target audience shares my (good) taste
- ALL THE TIME. Even if you decide, in the end, to take a chance and not follow the best practices, it’s just foolish not to be aware of them.
So, today’s public service announcement is read up on best practices. Although they shift month to month, and they often apply to specific contexts, here are a few sites to get started:
- Smashing Magazine has a whole section devoted to UX Design best practices
- UX Booth focuses articles around new best practices in UX each week (including a few I’ve written myself)
- Theresa Neil created a slideshare of best practices
- Android has shared a collection of developer and UX best practices