What the audience wants is not necessarily the same thing that they should be given. Today’s businesses don’t seem to realize this, or, more likely, choose to ignore this for their own benefit. For example, Huffington Post tests different headlines for their articles to see which one attracts the most traffic. Rather than picking the words the author deems most fitting and accurate, they let the majority of their visitors decide for them. The authority and intelligence of the author is disregarded for the preference of the masses.

The same thing is also seen in design where testing is used to boost conversion rates, best illustrated by the famous case of Google testing 41 shades of blue for their links. Designer’s judgement is brushed aside, overtaken by… what? Judgement of the majority? No, not judgement, but an aggregate of decisions made on impulse. People see a different shade of blue and different neurons get fired up in their brain. Maybe they’ll click the link this time, maybe they won’t. Whether they like the color or not is irrelevant for it is only the result that the designer after, it’s only the conversion that counts. Reason is displaced by instinct.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged”, yes, but in this context I would say: “Judge, that ye be not judged”, for judgement will come in the end one way or another, and it is your choice whether that judgement be based on your experience, your knowledge, and your reason, or on the instinct of the masses1. What? You think your judgement is to raise conversion rates for your own ends? So be it, but that judgement will also be reflected back at you, being the measure of you as a designer or as a journalist, and in turn through the world that you help create. It’s like saving money by buying cheap materials to build a house with, not realizing that you’re the one who will be living in that house.

  1. Besides, the next line reads: “For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” [Matthew 7:1-2]
August 2012