Defensible visual design

When you show your visual design to people, they might ask questions or challenge your decisions. Here are some notes on how to make your visual design easier to defend.

Note there are steps you can take to avoid questions/challenges in the first place, e.g. managing expectations. They are not covered here.

  1. It’s possible to design by taste/intuition alone. But that’s best when everyone trusts you. If you work in a low-trust environment, it’s harder to fall back on taste.
  2. Tie every visual design decision back to a project goal or the brand of the organisation/system.
  3. Some organisations have secret goals they don’t like to admit (e.g. “we want to look like the industry leader”). Your visual design might be judged against these goals. The better you understand them, the less vague feedback you might get.
  4. Every decision in your visual design should be intentional. You should be ready to explain the decision behind every pixel if necessary.
  5. If every value in the style (e.g. spacing, colours, text size) is related to every other value in some way, you can explain why you chose the values you did.
  6. Prefer accessible values whenever possible. If someone doesn’t like a decision, it’s better to point at an objective goal like accessibility than a subjective one like “I like how it looks”.
  7. You want to avoid any situation where it’s your opinion versus the opinion of someone with more power than you.
  8. Tie decisions to clarity. Whether people can understand something is universal and easy to measure. Something like beauty is much harder to measure.
  9. Look to industry and competitor standards where it’s sensible. That’s what many of the people who use your product will be familiar with.
  10. Tie decisions to how your company or product already does something. It’s easier to argue against something if it’s novel.
  11. Explore as many options as you can. Even ones you don’t think will work. If someone suggests one of those options, have it to hand so you can show why it doesn’t work.
  12. Tie visual design decisions to interaction design or commercial benefits, e.g. “this helps guide people’s attention to the call to action”.
  13. Don’t only use styles or techniques only because you saw them somewhere else/they’re popular. Find another reason to use them.
  14. Make sure your visual design choices are technically possible/easy.