On being ... a straw poll

By Ingrid Sapona
Recently I had to choose some artwork (an icon) for a project I’m working on. The illustrator came up with three designs. They were similar, but there were definite differences. One of the icons appealed to me right away. It so happened it was the one on the far left (all three were on one page). The background colour on the one that jumped out at me was also different from the other two – it featured a yellowish-gold palette, the other two featured dark red palettes.

This business of choosing an icon was new to me and because making the choice is a one-time thing, I felt I owed it to myself (and the illustrator), to give it some serious thought. So, I set out to mentally canvass what might be behind my preference.

I wondered, for example: did the one that I liked appeal to me just because it was the first one I saw as my eyes moved from left to right? Or was it because the colour was different? Would I have liked it as much if it had appeared at the far right? Might the illustrator be playing a mind game on me by giving me two that are basically the same colour?

After mulling it over for a few days (ok, over-thinking it for a few days), I decided to do something I don’t usually do: seek other peoples’ opinion. I took a straw poll. I sent a quick e-mail to a few people who have provided me information for the project, as well as to a few friends and family members who know a bit about the project. I asked them which icon they liked best, and if they had any comments. It was an ad hoc group, for sure, but I figured it was a good cross-section of folks.

I was gratified that people responded and moved by the thoughtfulness of their comments. Some folks had very specific comments about the lettering size and fonts, others remarked about the variations between them, pointing to particular elements in each that they liked. Most indicated which they liked best, or they ranked them. When all the responses were in, there really was no clear consensus. (Interestingly, the three people who had provided me information for the project – the folks who know me the least – all liked the same one I did.)

Besides liking the colour of icon number one (the yellowish-gold one), I also liked the design elements of it more than the design elements of the other two. But, since so many people commented that they liked the red colour palette, I asked the illustrator to show me icon number one in the red palette to see how it would look. Well, that did the trick! I liked icon number one in its original colour much better and that’s the one I ended up going with.

A few days after deciding, one of my sisters asked which I picked. When I told her I chose icon number one, she said she thought I was making a mistake. Apparently she didn’t like some of the design elements of icon number one, and she REALLY did not like the colour. I tried to explain my rationale, including all the factors I considered. She listened, but then asked the fateful question: “Why did you ask others if you weren’t going to take their advice?” I told her the opinions were all over the map, but I think she found that hard to believe. We discussed it a bit more and kind of agreed to disagree and then switched to a different topic.

Besides feeling exasperated at having to defend my icon choice, her question about why I bothered asking others their opinion really gave me pause. As I said, that’s not something I usually do – and clearly my sister knows that about me. So why had I this time?

One reason was because I wanted to try to see the icon choices through others’ eyes. I knew what specific things attracted me to icon number one and I was interested in seeing if others might mention those things. I also thought maybe someone would point out something I hadn’t noticed or mention something I hadn’t thought about. And, perhaps most importantly, I asked because I worry that I make too many decisions in a vacuum. It’s an occupational hazard for sole practitioners, I think, and a habit that I’m trying to break.

Looking back, I’m glad I took the straw poll. The comments and opinions offered were very helpful and I took them all to heart. But in the end, the decision was still mine to make. Though my choice may leave some folks thinking that I didn’t value their input, I hope they realize I was asking for their opinion, not advice.

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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