Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Professional deformation makes me leave deformed rants on a great website

Artist Peter Kalmus in shot by Oto Hudec for Janeil Engelstadt's Voices from the Center, hotlinked from the Grafixpol blog without kind permission but in good faith
I was leaving a rant on a Polish graphic designer's blog about the poor usability of a flash-based site they have produced.

The website Voices from the Center covers an amazing project by Janeil Engelstadt, an American artist who spent time at the Bratislava Academy of Fine Arts and Design as a Fulbright Scholar. She interviewed people around Central Europe on the end of Communist Rule - very topical since we are doing a lot of soul searching for the 20th anniversary of the "Tender Revolution" (that's what we call the Velvet Revolution here in Slovakia).

My mother sent me a link to the site and I first couldn't understand why. Later she showed me the site, since both she and my father are interviewed there. I enjoyed browsing around but I shared her frustration with the user experience - a Flash site by obviously talented graphic designers but with little regard to conventional usability principles (this is not my first Flash rant, of course).

I was frustrated enough to leave the rant and the authors were nice enough to reply, saying they disagree, since the site isn't strictly informative and aims to encourage exploration.

Of course, my professional bias made me respond again: drawing on Nielsen I argued that a more usable website would better encourage exploration (and sharing of this great content).

By the same token I admitted that they would find many of the sites I am involved with ugly. I tried to explain that harping on usability was for me what we call a "professional deformation" in Slovak. I realised though that this expression did not have the right meaning in English. I googled for the right English equivalent, since I 've had a need for this phrase repeatedly. I came across this great discussion on wordreference - shows that there really is no functional English equivalent. The best they come up with is saying you're biased by your profession, which I guess is a reasonable substitute but does not quite cover the connotational meaning of the "deformed" or "distorted" professional. You can lose a bias but once something is malformed it is harder to put right.

So apologies to the talented Poles for party crashing their blog and kudos (and some link love) to Janeil for Voices from the Center.