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One of the biggest problems with design, especially web design, is that we have a nearly impossible task of trying to use words to describe design. For example, if I say light blue, what color comes to mind?

Is it the light blue of an early morning sky? The light blue of a flower? The light blue from a popular corporate logo? All of these are contained in light blue, but none conveys the same light blue I’m probably thinking of.

It’s not that we’re unsure of how a design makes us feel. Quite the contrary, we know precisely and firmly how a design makes us feel. What’s imprecise are the words we use to describe it, and so we often end up with web site designs that leave us unfulfilled, like how you feel a half hour after a fast food meal. You know you ate, but it just doesn’t feel satisfying.

So how do you fix this?

Anyone who’s ever been fitted for any kind of corrective lenses – contacts, glasses, OMGlazerbeamsinureyes, etc. knows the process for assessing your vision. You sit in front of a fairly large pair of goggles and the opthamologist flips various lenses in front of your eyes as you look at the wall chart. Throughout the process he asks you which is better, 1 or 2, over and over again in rapid-fire sequence. (at least, my doctor only asked which was better, 1 or 2)

The eye doctor doesn’t ask you about the qualities of what you’re seeing – no questions about color reproduction or grain, sharpness or focus. He just asks which is better, 1 or 2, because very often a layman’s description would only muddy the waters. The speed at which he proceeds ensures that you don’t try to get verbal about what’s fundamentally a non-verbal issue.

The very binary question of which is better without any lengthy verbal judgements means that we don’t have to force words to describe what we’re seeing. We only need to pass judgement about general positivity or negativity. Yes, 1 is better. No, 2 is worse. The speed means we resort to trusting non-verbal, instinctive decisions, rather than laboring about how to describe something.

The next time you’re working on a web site, advertising creative, design or set of designs, try the eye doctor test. Print out the designs or stick them on Powerpoint slides, and show them to people rapidly. Which is better, 1 or 2? Don’t ask for anything that requires verbal analysis, just quick calls. Discourage discussion for this specific test (there will be plenty of time for deliberation later). Just cycle through your designs. Which is better, 1 or 2? For added sobering results, throw in designs from competitors and see how yours stack up in a rapid, first impression test.

You might be surprised at how easily people make good judgements in the blink of an eye.

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What your eye doctor can teach you about web design 1 What your eye doctor can teach you about web design 2 What your eye doctor can teach you about web design 3

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